You have just suffered an emotionally upsetting loss to your property—maybe a fire, a flood, wind damage, water damage or another type of disaster. Large or small, you now face the task of preparing and submitting a detailed claim to your insurance carrier, not only because you need to be compensated for your losses, but because it is required by your insurance policy.
For most people, the preparation of an insurance claim is unfamiliar and rough terrain. What does your policy actual cover? Do you understand the legal terminology and implications within the policy? What does “extended broad form property damage liability” mean? How about “water exclusion endorsement”? What is “business interruption insurance”? What does your policy not cover? At times, the list of questions seems endless, but remember, it is your responsibility to prepare and prove your claim to the insurance company, or your claim will be reduced, or worse...denied.
In order to obtain the highest settlement from your insurance company, you will need to have a thorough understanding of insurance coverages, the adjustment process and the correct procedures for compiling and submitting a detailed insurance claim.
This is when it begins to make sense that hiring an expert—a certified public adjuster—is the correct course of action. Yet, for whatever reason, some policyholders decide to handle the claims process themselves. Regardless of whether you plan to hire a public adjuster or if you plan to handle the claim yourself, you should follow the checklist below to maximize your insurance settlement and eliminate as many potential pitfalls as possible:
1. Board up and protect your property and its contents from further damage. You may need to hire a contractor to assist with this task. Be sure to hire a trusted contractor, and to obtain an estimate in writing for labor and materials. Keep this receipt. It is the first of many you will need to include in your claim. If your property damage occurred as a result of a weather-related event, there will be significant loss throughout your community. Contractors and supplies can be in short supply. Also, looting of contents may occur—both within the structure and those that may have been damaged and removed from the building. So, safeguard against this to prevent further loss and to protect evidence of your damage.
2. Contact your insurance company and/or agent immediately to report the loss. Again, it is required under the provisions of your insurance policy that you immediately report any loss to your insurance company. Failure to do so in a timely manner could result in your claim being denied. If you report the loss to your insurance agent, ask for a copy of the ACORD claim form that your agent has submitted on your behalf. This will serve as proof that the claim has been made. Also, notify your mortgage company, as they also have a stake in the property.
3. Check with the fire department to make sure your property is safe to enter. Be watchful of any structural damage. The fire department should see that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself. If your property is uninhabitable, contact your local police department to let them know the site will be unoccupied. If this is the case, consider hiring a guard service to watch the property. The cost of this service may be covered under your policy. If you cannot secure the property, remove all valuables, such as jewelry, art or other cherished possessions. Try to find a suitable temporary location. You could be displaced for longer than you might think. Have your mail forwarded to the new location, and have your phone calls redirected to your cell phone.
4. Document the loss of property and contents. Photograph everything. Go room-to-room, taking photos from every angle. Many public adjusters begin by photographing from every corner of the room toward the center. Take close-up shots of damaged items. If possible, photograph tags, labels and other identifying marks to justify the original quality of the item. For instance, if you had a kitchen fire that destroyed your Wolf 30” kitchen range, the cost to replace that range would be approximately $4,900. However, a Whirlpool 30” range would only cost about $549 to replace. You want to be sure that, within the final settlement from your insurance company, they have estimated the replacement value for the correct type and model of appliance that was lost. This detail can be lost in a long and complicated list of items needing to be replaced.
5. Do not repair or throw away any damaged property until after an inventory is taken and approved by the insurance company’s adjuster. This cannot be stressed enough. Your damaged property is evidence of your loss. Without it, you may not be able to prove your claim. Save all the receipts for any money you spend after the loss.
6. Beware of contractors urging you to sign a contract (other than for emergency services, such as boarding up your structure) before you have agreed with your insurance company on a loss settlement.
7. Study your insurance policy carefully so that you understand all your obligations under the policy. Do not assume that your insurance broker, your insurance company or your insurance’s company’s adjuster will be an accurate source for information regarding your policy and its coverages, limitations and exclusions.
8. Coordinate the property, business interruption and extra expense claims. This is where it really pays to engage the services of a public adjuster who understands the details of your insurance policy and what you are entitled to. But, if you choose to go it alone, be sure you understand the legal terminology of your policies, so you can maximize your settlement and get on with restoring operations.
9. Assemble a claims management team. Have one person speak on behalf of your family or your organization. This will reduce confusion and will help streamline the process.
10. Concentrate on restoring your operations and not on preparing claim details—leave that to the professionals. Again, a public adjuster will inventory your loss in extreme detail, taking photos and videos, creating drawings and spreadsheets and sifting through the mess to compile a professionally-prepared claim to submit on your behalf. But, again, if you choose to handle the claim yourself, take a proactive position. Hire your own experts. You may need an architect, an engineer and/or a building contractor to obtain an accurate assessment of the structural damage. Remember that you must make a claim and you must be able to substantiate your loss.
Public adjusters are experts on property loss adjustment whose sole responsibility is to you—the policyholder. Their job is to accurately assist in documenting, filing and adjusting insurance claims. They will manage every detail of the claim, working closely with you to provide the most equitable and prompt settlement possible. Public adjusters inspect the damaged property and contents, analyze the damages, assemble the claim support data, review your insurance coverage, determine replacement costs and serve you—not your insurance company. Their fee is often more than covered by the additional settlement they can receive on your behalf.
Professional Loss Adjusters, Inc. is a team of experienced public adjusters who will relieve you of the time-consuming and difficult matters involved in preparing and supporting an insurance claim. This leaves you free to concentrate on recovering and rebuilding. You will also gain the confidence of receiving a better settlement than you could obtain on your own.
PLA represents homeowners, property owners, commercial and industrial establishments, social organizations and institutions in the preparation and substantiation of an insurance claim.
We adjust virtually every kind of property loss—fire, hurricane, windstorm, flood, collapse, theft, or vandalism—including buildings, personal property, business interruption, extra expense, loss of rent, and additional living expense.