Managing and Mitigating Losses
What to Do Before a Loss
Unfortunately, some homeowners and tenants will suffer losses to their homes and possessions. There are usually, however, steps that can be taken to minimize the amount of loss or extent of damage, and to make the filing and processing of a claim a little bit smoother.
In addition to a Household Inventory and a video or photographic record, it might be helpful to engrave your larger possessions (such as televisions, VCRs, stereos, radios) with an identifying mark. This can be done with etching equipment that is usually available, on loan, from your insurance company or local police station. You can also purchase this type of equipment in a hardware or locksmith store. This type of engraving is especially important if any of your possessions are stolen and then recovered. You should also record the serial numbers of any electronic or computer equipment.
Smoke alarms, properly installed and maintained, can provide an early warning of a fire, and may minimize the property damage caused by a fire and, more importantly, save lives. Some homes now have sprinkler systems, which can also minimize fire damage and save lives. Fire extinguishers, strategically placed in your home, can help keep a small fire from becoming a larger one.
Inspect the locks on any door or window that allows access to your home. The installation of deadbolt locks on doors will make entrance into your home more difficult. Basement windows, first-floor windows, or any window opening onto a fire escape should be equipped with a window lock. Before installing iron bars or gates across your windows, you should check with your local fire department to determine whether local fire ordinances allow the use of these devices, as they may prohibit them. In addition, the use of electronic security systems has increased over the past few years. These systems are intended to set off an alarm whenever someone enters a home without using an appropriate security code. For an additional annual fee, a central reporting station will notify your local police precinct whenever the alarm is triggered.
Survey your entire property to check whether you need to trim or cut down trees that are too close to your barns or home. Check for old, damaged trees – especially before a storm -- and consider removal. See if trees need pruning or removing. Property owners have a duty to maintain the trees on their property and inspect property for damaged, distressed, diseased or improperly maintained trees. When in doubt, contact an arborist or an accredited tree care company.
Coastal area residents have experienced major property damage from severe weather storms in recent years. These homeowners might want to consider installing hurricane/storm shutters and/or hurricane resistant laminated glass windows and doors. Insurers are required by law to offer discounts to any homeowner who has installed hurricane/storm shutters or hurricane resistant laminated glass windows and doors.
Consumers with questions about insurance coverage should always first contact their insurance company, broker or agent.
What to Do After a Loss
If you sustain a loss, the first thing to do is to notify your insurance company or agent. You can do this by phone. Follow up with written notification and retain copies of all correspondence.
In addition, it is important to notify your insurance company or agent promptly after an incident takes place that might result in a claim at some later date, although no claim was made at the time the event occurred. For example, if your dog bites a neighbor or a guest falls on your property, the occurrence should be reported to the insurance company in spite of the fact that you don’t know whether any claim is actually going to be made against you. Your failure to notify the company promptly might result in a denial of coverage in the event a claim is filed against you at a later date.
It is also important to protect your property against further damage. For example, if the windows are broken, have them boarded up to protect against loss from vandalism or burglary. The cost of this type of protection is generally covered in a policy and would thus be reimbursed by your insurance company. Be sure to save all receipts for the cost of all temporary fixes. No permanent repairs should be made until your company or its representative has inspected the property. The company has the right to inspect the property in its damaged condition, and can refuse to pay you for any damage that is repaired before inspection.
In some cases, customers and insurers fail to see eye to eye on damage amounts. In such cases it may pay for you to try to negotiate with your insurer.
If the adjuster says your policy doesn't cover certain damage, ask to see the specific contract language. If the dispute is over the damage amount, request a sit-down with the contractor and adjuster to go over the estimate line by line. Still disagree? Get a second opinion from an independent contractor. Patience, persistence, and legwork needed to get multiple estimates often pay off.
If you feel you’ve been misled by an insurance salesperson about policy wording, contact a lawyer who specializes in insurance law. Arbitration is another option. You can also file a complaint with the Department.