Early Stage of Filing Insurance Claim” What Should You Do (and What you Should NOT Do)
March 3, 2020 will be remembered for a long time to those living in middle Tennessee for the devastating tornado that swept through the area.
There will be a lot of people who will be filing claims. It is imperative that we take a moment to list some of the most important things that a policyholder should know when reaching out to their insurance company’s adjusters to file a claim.
First (the obvious), file your insurance claim as soon as possible. The sooner you get in line, the faster the insurance company’s adjuster will show up to your property.
Second, immediately email your agent and ask them to email you an up-to-date, complete DIGITAL copy of your policy, and your declarations page. The “dec” page shows the dollar limit that your carrier will pay for each of your coverages. A complete copy of your policy with all forms and endorsements will explain the benefits to which you are entitled. This is a critical document.
With all the communication that will go on between you and your insurance company’s adjuster for the foreseeable future, it would be wise to keep as much of it in writing as possible. Your adjuster has a digital logbook where he/she is recording all their communication with you, including conversations. So, if your insurance company’s representative thinks it would be important to document your communication, I would suggest that it should be just as important to you to do likewise. It’s not only prudent, but it also sends the unspoken message to your adjuster that you are paying attention to the details of your claim when you keep most of your communication to emails. To be clear, I am not saying don’t verbally speak with your adjuster, only that when you do talk to them to at least follow up that conversation with an email to them summarizing what was discussed in person or over the phone.
For those of you who suffered minor roof damage or had windows blown out, it’s incumbent on you to prevent additional damage to your property by tarping your roof and/or boarding up your windows. This is one of your “duties” spelled out in your policy as a condition of having your property insured. Keep a receipt for the people you pay to do this, and your insurance company will reimburse you.
There is a real tendency after a catastrophe to get in a hurry concerning your claim. And, make decisions based on what will more quickly get you back in your home or business. I can tell you this unequivocally that, “Speed is the enemy of a good claim”. You must get to the point that you emotionally and mentally accept that processing your claim and repairing your building or home will take longer than you anticipated. To this point, one of the most common mistakes I see people make is that they hire a contractor before they ever get an estimate from their insurance adjuster. They end up putting “the cart in front of the horse”.
Until you and the company’s adjuster agree to the scope of the damage and are in agreement with what the insurance company will pay, you would be most wise to wait before signing on the dotted line with any contractor. Otherwise, they will begin doing demolition and repairs that may not be agreed to by the company adjuster, and you will be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Some general contractors will even tell you that they can negotiate your claim with the company’s adjuster. (Yet they never even ask for a copy of the policy to read!). In Tennessee, if they were to do so, they would be acting in an illegal capacity. Negotiations of property insurance claims are the exclusive domain of Public Adjusters and attorneys. The reason for this is that it takes extensive training to be able to read insurance policies and adequately understand the additional coverages and extensions and how they can be accessed. There is a time and place to hire a contractor, and it is not at the beginning of your claim.
What’s a Public Adjuster, you might now be asking? They are trained insurance adjusters that value and negotiate property damage exclusively and only for policyholders (the “public”) in a property insurance claim. They level the playing field with the insurance company’s adjuster assigned by the carrier to your claim. Public Adjusters are licensed and regulated by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. Like other licensed professions, we have to pass an initial examination, post insurance bonds, take continuing education courses, etc.
But here’s the deal, there’s no reason to hire someone like me (or any other Public Adjuster for that matter) at the beginning of a claim and agree to pay them a percentage of your entire structural claim. The reason: Under Tennessee law, the insurance company is required to give you an estimate. That estimate is their “settlement offer” to repair the structural damage to your home, church, business, etc. I can tell you with 100% certitude that your insurance company is going to make you an offer whether you hire a Public Adjuster or not. (Whether it’s a sufficient amount is another question). So, here’s my rhetorical question: Why would you pay someone a percentage of what you are going to get anyhow? (It makes no sense to me).
Only after you have received your estimate should you ask a Public Adjuster to review your estimate. They can see if it covers the full extent of the damage and meets industry standards and practices. Don’t accept the adjuster’s estimate at face value. Get a second opinion, it doesn’t cost anything. If it’s a deficient estimate, then you will only be paying a Public Adjuster a percentage of the additional monies they can add to your settlement. Until then, let the insurance company’s adjuster do their job and come up with an estimate. It will require some patience because most of their caseloads increased significantly as of 1:00 a.m. March 3, but only then can you truly know if you are being offered everything you need to put your life and business back together.