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5 Tips for Handling a Commercial or Residential Property Insurance Claim

Hail damage on a roof after a storm

If your property is damaged, there are several important steps you should take to protect yourself.

1. Find your policy (or policies). Your policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. This means that you have certain obligations and deadlines you must meet in order to recover under your policy. For example, the policy will include deadlines by which you must give written notice of a claim, or submit a proof of loss, or request an appraisal.

The insurance company will require your strict compliance with the policy – so read it carefully. If you have questions about your policy, seek the advice of a lawyer. Remember the adjuster is working for the insurance company- not you.

If you are a commercial property owner you may have several different policies or coverages that need to be explored. These may include:

  • Business income insurance;
  • Additional coverages like off-premises power failure, debris removal, etc.
  • Coverage for all property damage including structure, buildings, fixtures, machines, and inventory;
  • Extra expense insurance.

Know what you have and tell the adjuster what you have before the adjuster tells you what he believes you have.

2. Get a camera and notepad. You should thoroughly document your loss as soon as possible. This means that you should take a complete inventory of your loss. Go from room to room and document every item of damage you see and compare it to the pre-loss condition. It is important to be as thorough as possible. Don’t skip something because it is “obvious.” Likewise, don’t skip something because it seems too small. Use blueprints, old photographs, invoices, and purchase orders. In short, use everything you can imagine to document the pre-loss condition. You may even want to interview other people who were familiar with the pre-loss condition and have them inspect the property to see whether they see something you might have missed.

3. Mitigate your loss. There is a provision in your policy that requires you to mitigate your loss. This means that you must make such temporary repairs that are necessary so that you do not suffer further loss. If there is a hole in the roof, tarp it or patch it. If there is standing water, drain it. And be sure to keep all receipts for the temporary repairs that you undertake.

Note: Do not dispose of damaged property. Your policy may give your insurance company the right to inspect damaged property. Notify the insurance company of your intent to discard damaged property and get their permission in writing before throwing it away.

4. Put it in writing and get it in writing. Please note that a “Notice of Claim” and a “Proof of Loss” must be in writing according to your policy. There are most likely other items that you will be required to submit in writing. Know these.

You should also take notes during every conversation you have with an adjuster. Then after you have finished the conversation put the notes in a follow-up letter to the adjuster. Here is an example:

“Dear _____: This letter serves to memorialize our conversation of yesterday afternoon. During the conversation, you agreed that the debris removal estimate from XYZ Company would be covered in full under the policy. Based on this understanding, I have contacted the XYZ Company to schedule an appointment for debris removal. If the above does not accurately reflect our agreement please notify me immediately.”

5. Get your own estimates. The insurance adjuster will come out to your property and adjust your claim. It would be unwise to allow the adjuster who is working for the insurance carrier to be the only person who estimates the loss. Many times the adjuster is not sophisticated enough to provide an accurate estimate of the entire scope of loss. There may be complex issues at play.

For example, our firm was assisting a customer with a hail damage claim to a flat roof. The adjuster prepared an estimate. However the estimate did not require a roof that met a recently adopted building code. In order to bring the roof to code the new roof was going to cost about four times the amount estimated by the adjuster.

Most policies provide for replacement and repair with “like or similar kind and quality.” As you might imagine this is subject to wide interpretation.

The bottom line is this: you will get one chance to get your claim right. Do not leave your fate in the hands of the insurance adjuster. Call Hoch Law Firm, P.C. for a free consultation.

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