For survivors of disasters such as the recent North Bay fires, insurance coverage is crucial for recovery and for rebuilding. As an advocate for insurance policyholders, Emergent LLP partner Peter Roldan helps them to maximize coverage for their losses. Below are a few of his tips for navigating the claims process and dealing with insurers. You can reach Peter by emailing him (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contacting us.
1) Give prompt notice of your claim
I can’t stress enough how important it is to give notice of a loss as soon as possible. Obviously, if your insurance company doesn’t know about the claim, it can’t pay it. In situations like the North Bay fires, insurance companies will be inundated with claims, so it’s imperative that policyholders get their claims into the queue. Opening a claim also allows you to request cash advances for additional living expenses (ALE) and for purchasing necessities.
Finally, notifying your insurer starts the clock running with respect to fair claims handling deadlines, putting the onus on the insurer to promptly begin its investigation and adjustment of your claim.
2) Document your loss as thoroughly as possible
Your insurer can’t pay for damages that it doesn’t know about. Ultimately, it’s up to the policyholder to provide the insurer with proof of loss. To help speed up the process and ensure that you’re reimbursed for all covered losses, you should send your insurer as much information as possible regarding your damaged property and any additional expenses relating to the loss. This includes receipts, photos, or videos of damaged items, as well as property inventories.
3) Keep written records of all communications with your insurer
Maintain a file of all written communications with your insurance company, and keep a detailed log of all your telephone conversations and any face-to-face meetings with the insurer’s representatives. These records will come in handy when you need to follow up on your claim (see tip no. 4, below) and will be especially important if you need to file a lawsuit against the insurance company to recover your insurance benefits.
4) Follow up and be proactive
Even the most well-meaning claims adjuster sometimes gets swamped. To keep your claim from falling through the cracks or getting sent to the bottom of the to-do pile, follow up with your insurance company on a regular basis—don’t let more than two weeks pass without some sort of contact with your insurer. Squeaky wheel gets the oil, etc. But be polite—nasty letters won’t necessarily help, and they certainly won’t look good if you end up having to go to court.
5) Know the coverage available under your policy
Although a good claims adjuster will work with a policyholder to try to identify the elements of a covered loss, you shouldn’t rely solely on the adjuster’s representations regarding the available coverage (see tip no. 7, below). Familiarize yourself with the coverage provided in your policy and don’t be afraid to ask the claims adjuster whether a loss or expense is covered (and make your request in writing).
6) Don’t sign any contracts or legal documents without consulting an attorney
As part of the claims handling process, your insurer may ask you to sign a release or an assignment of rights. It’s a good idea to have any such release or assignment reviewed by an attorney before signing, as you may be giving up important rights. Always ask for copies of documents you sign.
7) Remember that the insurance company is not your friend
Insurance companies spend a lot of money to convince you that you’re in good hands or that they make good neighbors. They also hire famous athletes and actors, and have cute mascots to help bolster their images in the eyes of consumers. Don’t believe the hype. Treat your insurance claim like any other business transaction or negotiation.
While there’s no need to be paranoid and to think that all insurance companies are out to get you, do remember that insurance companies are run by human beings and that human beings make mistakes and make bad decisions. Don’t count on your insurance company to look out for your interests. By being knowledgeable about your policy and the claims process, you can usually ensure that you are getting the benefits you are entitled to under your policy.
However, be sure to seek out the services of an experienced and qualified insurance law attorney, if needed. Insurance companies have plenty of lawyers on their side, so you’ll want to have your own attorney to fight for you if you are being treated unfairly.