The winds and rain have eased and — we hope, by this reading — the lights are back on. Now, Mainers affected by Hurricane Sandy may be wondering about making insurance claims.
Advocates, including the Consumer Federation of America, point out that consumers faced a variety of claim problems following Hurricane Katrina. Even as Sandy was churning onto the coast last week, CFA was urging people to be vigilant about their insurance coverage (more on that later).
If you have storm damage and decide to file a claim, do so right away. Insurers generally take claims on a first-come, first-served basis. Once you have reported to the insurance company, get your claim number and write it down; claims departments can track your claim most easily by way of this claim number.
When the insurance company sends an adjuster to visit, ask if that person works for the company or is an independent adjuster, or an IA, that they have hired. If he or she is and IA, try to get the name of the company adjuster who will receive information from the IA or find out if the IA is authorized to make decisions on claims and payments from your insurer.
Keep good records and document every contact you make with your insurance company. Note the date and time and briefly describe every exchange. If an adjuster promises to visit and does not, write it down. If an adjuster is rude, write that down. Good records are essential if you need to complain later.
Know your coverage. Flooding is not covered by typical homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Consumers with flood damage who bought a flood policy from the National Flood Insurance Program should contact the agent or company that wrote the policy to begin the claim process.
There might be an endorsement for sewer backup coverage, so ask your insurance agent if you have it. If so, and the water damage was caused by sewer lines backing up through your home’s drain pipes, your losses may be covered.
Most insurance doesn’t cover damages to trees or landscaping, but many policies do have allowances for cleanup of debris. Check your policy and consult your agent about this coverage.
Your deductible is the amount of damage you have to pay. If the loss is caused by a named storm, you likely will be responsible for a percentage of the loss, based on replacement cost. You should find that percentage on your homeowner’s or renter’s policy.
When you file a claim, you will list everything that was damaged or destroyed. This process is much easier if you have made a thorough home inventory. If you don’t have one, make a list room by room. You can print an inventory spreadsheet from the Maine Bureau of Insurance website, www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance. The bureau can help with any questions or problems you have after a disaster; call 1-800-300-5000 in-state.
The Consumer Federation of America was highly critical of some insurers after Hurricane Katrina, alleging that they raised rates and cut coverage. CFA says that should not discourage people from filing claims in the wake of Sandy. The group also urges state regulators to keep a close eye on insurers for possible claims abuses and follow-up actions, such as reduced coverage or premium hikes.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.