In Sandy Aftermath, How To File An Insurance Claim For Damage
The wreckage from Hurricane Sandy is extensive. More than 6 million people woke up this morning without power. New York City has been especially hard hit; public schools and the New York Stock Exchange are closed for the second consecutive day. Whatever damages you may have sustained, the process of filing an insurance claim in the wake of what really did turn out to be Frankenstorm is fairly similar. Here are the steps to take, as well as some commonsense guidelines to follow as you evaluate the damage and start to deal with it.
1. Do no harm. Don’t become a statistic by going out on the roof or wading through knee-high water in your basement (where you could get shocked by electrical current). Instead call for emergency help from your police or fire department.
2. Contact your insurer. Weather forecasters gave insurance companies enough notice that many already have systems in place for helping customers with claims on both auto and homeowners insurance policies. Try checking online before you call the company’s 800 number. My own insurer, USAA, provides a lot of useful information on its website and lets you start the claims process there or even on a mobile app. Allstate, State Farm and Geico offer similar services.
3. Document losses. Take pictures and make notes briefly describing what happened. If phone lines are jammed and you can’t reach a live person right away, it will help refresh your memory when you finally get through. You’ll also be happy to have these notes if the company disputes whether a particular loss is covered. Most homeowners policies don’t cover floods, and damage caused by a hurricane is often flood related.
4. Minimize damage. For most people this will mean starting to dry things out. Spread wet items on absorbent paper towels or on wire racks if you have them. Unpack the contents of cartons that got wet. Use box fans to promote circulation and combat mildew. If you have lost power, keep the refrigerator door closed to reduce the chance that food will spoil.
5. Arrange for repairs. The sequence of events—whether you contact your insurance company first, or immediately find someone to fix the damage–will obviously depend on whether you’re dealing with an emergency. Your insurer may be able to offer a referral for tree removal, carpet cleaning or painting restoration, for example. But you can also get names from the maven on your block or rely on tradespeople who you have worked with before. Exercise the same precautions you would with any other home repair: check licenses, if any; deal with a reputable service provider and pay by check or credit card.
6. Keep receipts. Most companies won’t require you to show what you initially paid for items that have been damaged. But they do want to know what you spent as a result of the loss. So if your policy covers evacuation expenses, like hotel, transportation, meals and clothing expenses, keep detailed records of what you shelled out. And remember, they expect you to be reasonable, just as you’re hoping they will be in processing your claim. So don’t make this an excuse to splurge.