Hurricane Insurance Claims

Now that Hurricane Sandy has passed, we are receiving questions about insurance coverage regarding making a claim, damage caused by surging water, falling trees, wind and damage to  roofs, homes, cars, etc  Here are a few examples(please note these examples are generic and application depends on your particular insurance policy).

After Hurricane Irene of August 2011, many insurance policies were written to include hurricane deductibles based upon the value of your home and anti-concurrent causation clauses, which mean that if there are multiple causes such as wind and  flooding and wind is covered but flooding is not, all coverage may be denied.

The Insurance Information Institute  offers the following advice to facilitate the insurance claims filing and settlement 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. Make two copies—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 assessing the value of the destroyed property.
  • Make whatever temporary repairs you can without endangering yourself. 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 you purchased flood insurance offered by the National Flood Insurance Program, call your insurance agent or insurance company and provide them with your flood insurance policy number and a telephone number/email address where you can be reached. They will begin to process your NFIP policy for you

Notice/Claim: When in doubt make a claim.  Make sure to submit enough detail about the claim including photographs and invoices if you have them.  Photograph, videotape, document and inventory  everything  and attempt to leave it alone until the insurance adjuster arrives.  If the adjuster is delayed, document everything you have moved or repaired and keep all damaged items for the adjuster to inspect.

Many insurers have a hotline in which to submit a claim telephonically.  Do so and remember to write down the assigned claim number and the name and phone number of the adjuster if and when provided.

Also, submit your claim in writing via email, regular mail and certified mail to your broker and to the insurance company named on your policy.

Falling Trees: If a tree on your property falls and does not hit your home or a structure on your property such as a detached garage, the cost of clean up is generally not covered. Insurance covers resulting damage to any contents, and the cost of removing the tree if it falls on a structure such as a home or detached garage. However, some companies may cover removal of a fallen tree if it blocks access to the home.

If your neighbors tree falls on your property and damages a structure, your insurance company should cover the cost of the tree removal and the cost of repair from the resulting damage.  If the tree was in poor health or improperly maintained, your insurance company may seek reimbursement from your neighbors insurance company.

If your car has comprehensive coverage, the automobile policy should cover the cost of damage from a fallen tree.

Surging storm water/Flood Insurance:  Damage caused by surging storm water is generally not covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy.  In order to have coverage, you need to purchase flood insurance. Homeowners who live near the shoreline usually have federal flood insurance which is required by their mortgage lender.

Flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties. Homes are covered for up to $250,000 on a replacement cost basis and the contents for up to $100,000 on an actual cash value basis. Replacement cost coverage pays to rebuild the structure as it was before the damage. Actual cash value is replacement cost minus the depreciation in value that occurs over time. (Excess flood insurance is available in all risk zones from some private insurers  who want additional coverage or where the homeowner’s community does not participate in the national flood insurance program.) Coverage for the contents of basements is limited. Coverage limits for commercial property are $500,000 for the structure and another $500,000 for its contents.

Wind damage:  Wind damage to the structure and contents is generally covered by a homeowners insurance policy.  However, a special hurricane deductible or limit will most likely apply.  The hurricane deductible is based on the percentage of the home’s value. You may have purchased  extra hurricane coverage which will lower your deductible but raise your premium.

Basement contents:   Regarding a basement or below level portions of your home, flood insurance only covers structural damage and the cost of replacing utilities. Items stored in your basement may not be covered.

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