Professional Insurance Agents Offer Post-Disaster Claims Filing Tips
Public Adjusters Are Not Needed in Most Cases
WASHINGTON — The devastating tornadoes that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma and surrounding communities will cause many consumers to file insurance claims. The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) offers some tips for property owners who are beginning the claims filing process.
“While most of the nation is focused on Moore, Oklahoma, that was our 3rd straight day of tornadoes in Oklahoma, with the communities of Edmond, Shawnee, Little Axe, Bethel Acres and Carney suffering major tornado damage as well as loss of life,” said Claudia Montgomery of PIA of Oklahoma. “The Oklahoma Insurance Department has been excellent in this crisis and most of the insurance companies licensed in the state knew what was expected of them, as directed by our commissioner. The companies have been very pro-active in assisting victims with their claims.”
Standard homeowners and business insurance policies cover wind damage caused by tornadoes and severe weather. Homeowners insurance policies also provide coverage for additional living expenses that policyholders will need to finance temporary housing costs and other daily necessities. Damage to vehicles is covered under the comprehensive section of standard auto insurance policies, which is optional. Here are a few tips to assist in the claims process:
- Be prepared to give your agent or insurance company representative a description of the damage to your property. Your agent will report the loss immediately to your insurance company or to a qualified adjuster, who will contact you as soon as possible in order to arrange an inspection of the damage. Make sure you give your agent a telephone number where you can be reached.
- If it is safe to access the area, take photographs of the damaged property. Visual documentation will help with the claims process and will assist the adjuster in the investigation.
- Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property. Contact your agent to assist you. Your agent can advise if there have been any changes to the process of documenting your losses. Make two copies of the inventory - one for yourself and one for the adjuster. Your list should be as complete as possible, including a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost.
- Collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other papers that will assist the adjuster in obtaining the value of the destroyed property.
- Make whatever temporary repairs you can. Cover broken windows and damaged roofs and walls to prevent further destruction. Save the receipts for any supplies and materials you purchase as your insurance company will reimburse you for reasonable expenses in making temporary repairs.
- Secure a detailed estimate for permanent repairs to your home or business from a licensed contractor and give it to the adjuster. The estimate should contain the proposed repairs, repair costs and replacement prices.
- If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accommodations while repairs are being made, keep a record of all expenses, such as hotel and restaurant receipts.
- If your business has been damaged and you have business income (business interruption) insurance, it covers the profits your business would have earned, based on your own financial records, had the disaster not occurred. The policy covers additional operating expenses incurred as a result of the disaster, such as the extra expense of operating out of a temporary location.
Separately, some people may hire public adjusters to help them with their insurance claims. Public adjusters have no relationship with your insurance company and charge a fee for their services. According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), a public adjuster can assist with the claims process, but cannot get you more money than you are entitled to under your insurance policy and will not be able to get your claim settled any faster. You are simply paying them for a service.
“Public adjusters imply that the settlement won’t be fair to the policyholder without their intervention, for which they charge an additional fee directly to the person who is insured,” said PIA National Senior Vice President Patricia A. Borowski. “This fee is usually a percentage of the final settlement — and for some, it might also include extra charges for the expenses of the public adjuster.”
“Under the insurance and contract laws of every U.S. jurisdiction, insurance companies are required and obligated to perform the claims services and settlements that are stated in their insurance policy contracts,” Borowski said. “Also, in every state there is a Department of Insurance, along with regulators, who will assist consumers to ensure that insurers meet their obligations. This service is a part of state government, for which consumers have already paid in their taxes.”
Keep in mind that your insurance company provides an adjuster at no charge to you, and that the service provided by your professional independent insurance agent also comes at no charge to you.
“Public adjusters sometimes have a role, but frankly in most cases consumers do not need to take on the additional expense of hiring one,” said PIA National Executive Vice President & CEO Ron Von Haden. “Professional insurance agents assist their clients in the claims-filing process, which begins with filing a claim with the insurance company, at no added cost. The overwhelming number of claims are properly paid. Approaching the claims filing process in an open, cooperative manner produces a better result than assuming a potentially adversarial stance from the outset.”
Founded in 1931, PIA is a national trade association that represents member insurance agents and their employees who sell and service all kinds of insurance, but specialize in coverage of automobiles, homes and businesses. PIA members are Local Agents Serving Main Street AmericaSM. PIA’s Web address is www.pianet.com.