Homeowner Insurance Claims: Six Things You Need to Know
You’ve notified your insurance company, what’s next?
“Many homeowner and commercial property insurance policies have a dispute resolution provision for valuation disputes. However, these provisions vary from policy to policy and often have legally binding requirements that must be complied with in order to resolve the dispute.”
As thousands of us along the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast begin the recovery process after Hurricane Sally, many of us will be having to make insurance claims for damage to our homes and property. Here are some important things you need to know about your property damage and/or homeowner insurance claim. Keep in mind an insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company that details what each party must do related to a loss. Your failure to comply with these requirements can be grounds to void coverage! Also, when you are making an insurance claim it is your burden to prove the loss with proper documentation and credible evidence.
1. Notify Your Insurance Company Immediately. Most insurance policies require notification of a potential claim as soon as possible. A delay in notifying the insurance company of a potential claim could result in a denial of coverage.
2. Document & Mitigate Your Damages. There is no such thing as too many photographs or videos of your damage. Also, your policy requires you to undertake reasonable steps to help minimize the loss. This may mean putting a tarp over roof damage to prevent more damage or putting plywood over broken windows. Failure to mitigate your damages can result in the denial of benefits or reduced benefits. If you can not get to your property to assess and/or mitigate your damages because of government restrictions, make sure to print or screen shot the restriction.
3. Review Your Policy. There are several important things to know about your policy and the coverage it provides. While there is no “uniform” homeowner policy, most contain the following sections and parts. The starting point in your review is the Declarations Page. This tells you the amount of coverage available for the various losses and should document what real property is covered by the policy. It should also document the deductible for each claim. The Terms and Definition sections defines a “covered loss” and any exclusions as well as all the other relevant terms used in the policy. The Property Damage section of your policy outlines the what real property and personal property will be covered under the policy and it usually explains the loss of use coverage. The Personal Liability portion of the policy explains the personal protection afforded to you for liability claims made against you or a member of your household for negligence or careless actions. The Additional Terms & Conditions section of the policy may contain legal provisions such as assignment of benefits, subrogation and dispute resolution procedures.
4. Be Careful in Your Conversation with the Insurance Company. Always be truthful but only provide facts you know to be true. After a storm, insurance adjusters are working hard and moving quickly. Often when reporting your damage the insurance company will ask about other damage. If you assume you have no other reportable or claimable damages and say you have no other damage then the adjuster may not give your house a full inspection when he or she comes to adjust your loss and write an estimate. Always ask that the adjuster give your home or property a full and complete inspection. They are trained to identify damage and they may see storm damage that you did not realize.
5. What to do if You and the Insurance Company Don’t Agree. Generally, there will be two potential areas for disagreement: coverage and valuation of the loss. If your insurance company is denying coverage for the damage then you have a right to have the denial in writing. Generally, you should ask for a written explanation of the denial and ask for a specific reference to the policy provision that supports the denial. E.g., A policy may exclude flood or rising water damage. Have the written denial letter and the policy reviewed by an experienced insurance claims attorney as soon as possible. If you disagree on the valuation of the loss, e.g., repair vs. replace, then you may want to consult with an experienced insurance attorney. Many homeowner and commercial property insurance policies have a dispute resolution provision for valuation disputes. This allows for a resolution without having to file a lawsuit! However, these provisions vary from policy to policy and often have legally binding requirements that must be complied with in order to resolve the dispute. Some States even allow for the recovery of attorney fees if you are successful
6. Consultations are Free! Almost all lawyers who represent people who have a dispute or disagreement with an insurance company provide free consultations. Many of these lawyers will represent a claimant under a contingency fee contract; that is, no money recovered for you, no fee owed. However, the percentage charged can vary greatly from law firm to law firm. Some may charge 15% of the total recovery while others may charge 25% of the amount in dispute. Also, some lawyers may advance the expenses related to the matter while others may require you to pay those expenses directly and as incurred. If you hire an attorney to assist you with your claim, you should know exactly how the fee will be calculated and how expenses will be handled. You should always get a copy of the representation agreement. If you don’t get a copy of the agreement at least send a written confirmation of your understanding as to how fees and expenses will be handled.
If you are an Alabama or Florida Gulf Coast resident and you have a question about your insurance claim, please contact Boteler Richardson Wolfe – Attorneys at 251 433-7766. We’ve been helping Gulf Coast residents with insurance claims since 1987. Offices in Mobile, AL and Foley, AL
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