Homeowner’ insurance claims can be facilitated by good documentation

On behalf of Terrence J. Coleman (Terry)

As many Californians know, filing a homeowners’ insurance damage claim can sometimes be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Business Journals notes that insurance companies employ an army of agents, adjusters, appraisers, engineers, and attorneys who go to great lengths to protect the insurer’s bottom line. It is important to never forget that your homeowners’ insurance policy is a legal contract whose language was painstakingly prepared with great care to maximize profits for the insurance company as opposed to being overly generous in paying claims.

Before your home sustains damage due to a storm or other natural disaster, there are two steps you can take that may help smooth the process of processing a damages claim. First, carefully review your homeowner’s policy and make sure you understand the scope of your coverage. Specifically, make sure you are knowledgeable about the policy’s exclusions, endorsements and deductibles. As noted on the Zachs Financial Investment website, most homeowners do not study their policies closely until they need to file a claim. That is unfortunate since the key to successfully submitting a damage claim is “knowing what your policy covers nearly as well as your insurer does. ” If you know what your policy covers, you are not put in a position of blindly relying on whatever the claims adjuster tells you.

Second, as advised by Kiplinger magazine, prepare an inventory of the items in your home. Use your smartphone to photograph and/or video every room in your home and its contents. Whether you document household items by photographic or video evidence-or prepare an old-fashioned handwritten inventory-make sure the documentation of your home’s contents is stored somewhere safe and accessible. One suggestion is that you make a video of your home’s contents with your smartphone and then email it to yourself.

After damage occurs

After your home has been damaged, the Insurance Information Institute advises that you notify your agent or the insurance company immediately. Insurance policies place time limits on filing claims. Next, since you will need to substantiate your loss, begin the process of documenting the property damage much like you initially created an inventory of your home’s contents.

Using a camera, video recorder or smartphone, make photographs or take videos of the damage sustained to your home. Take care to never put yourself in danger during the course of documenting the damage after a disaster has struck your home. Avoid throwing out damaged items until an adjuster has viewed the items.

If necessary, make temporary repairs in order to protect your home from sustaining further damage. Save any receipts reflecting the cost of making the temporary repairs. Refrain from making permanent repairs until an adjuster has viewed the damage. If you need to temporarily relocate from your home due to severe damage, keep receipts for the costs of lodging and food. Most insurance policies provide coverage for the loss of use of your home following its damage.

If you are having a problem getting the insurance company to process the claim in a timely fashion, the American Institute of CPAs advises that you ask your insurance agent or broker to intervene and get the problem resolved. Ultimately, if the insurance company proves to be intransigent in handling your damages claim, the Institute advises seeking legal assistance.

Seek legal help

If you find yourself in a dispute with an insurance company over its handling of your homeowners’ insurance damage claim, you should contact a California attorney experienced in handling insurance law as soon as possible.