Superstorm Sandy: What to do before filing a claim

Adam Howard works to clean the inside of Bubba's restaurant on the water in Virginia Beach, VA., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. Rain and wind from Hurricane Sandy flooded the business at high tide. About 630 members of the Virginia National Guard are getting ready to respond across the state to help with recovery operations related to Hurricane Sandy. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber

(MoneyWatch) People whose home or business were damaged by superstorm Sandycan expect another challenge -- the often bewildering process of filing an insurance claim. 

But being well informed and prepared in filing a claim can improve a person's chances of receiving a full, fair and prompt settlement. Here are some important points to consider:

Read your insurance policy first. Most people filing insurance claims are not aware of their benefits and rights under a policy. That uncertainty is often compounded by concerns that an insurer may resist covering damage. Although a quick claims process is better for all, the insurance company wants to pay the least amount, while beneficiaries want to maximize their recovery.

The first thing to do is to obtain and read a complete copy of the insurance policy, including all declarations, endorsements and riders. The declarations page will include each category of coverage (such as dwelling, contents ad loss of use) and the specific dollar limits for each category. The policy will also include a description of all covered risks and losses. The key point: People should familiarize themselves as much as possible with the details of their policies and not simply depend on an insurance company to handle the process.

Document everything. In filing a claim, the first thing to do is to report the loss to the insurer's claims department. It will create a claim number for the case and assign the case to an adjuster. Also make sure to ask the adjuster for the name and contact information of his or her supervisor.

From this initial phone call and throughout the entire process, people should document all contact with any insurance company representative. Write down the time and date of every call, what was said, by whom and what are the next steps. The insurance company may want to handle the claim with little or no documentation, but it's best to document everything.

For this reason, it is a good idea to request email addresses and to send a summary email message of every phone call with the insurance company back to the adjuster and claim supervisor.

Business owners should document all damage to equipment, supplies and property. Also document the loss of revenues, as many business interruption policies provide coverage that will pay for a defined amount of expenses when a business is unable to operate because of a covered loss.

Also document the names, titles, phone numbers and email addresses of all the people involved in the process who are accountable for the claim. This will include, in ascending order at the insurer, the adjuster, claims supervisor, unit manager, regional claims manager and home office claims. This is to make it easier for claimants to escalate their questions if there is a problem. To that end, it's helpful to know that claims managers and unit managers would much rather resolve a problem at their level than have to explain to their supervisors why your complaint had to be escalated for resolution.

Check back in a few days, when I'll write about how to use documentation to get the best settlement from an insurance company.

  • Ray Martin

    Since 1986, Ray Martin has been a practicing financial counselor, providing valuable and practical financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch, and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.

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