It's been a winter to remember, with devastating ice storms in the Southeast and frigid temperatures and lots of snow in the Midwest and Northeast.
It seems as if almost everyone knows someone who has had a car, home or other property damaged due to the extreme winter weather. Reports of roofs collapsing under the weight of ice and snow are a staple on the local nightly news. Homeowners are complaining about roof leaks caused by ice dams as snow freezes and water backs up under shingles and seeps through the roof.
If you've experienced damage to your property because of the winter weather, chances are you'll be filing an insurance claim. But for most people, doing so and getting through the settlement process can be confusing and intimidating.
Before you file a claim, you need to know how to go about it. Being well informed and prepared can improve your chances of receiving a full and fair settlement.
Read your policy
The first thing to do is to read your insurance policy, including all declarations, endorsements and riders. Pay attention to language under covered risks and any specific risks that relate to your particular loss (for example, losses caused by weight of ice and snow, and roof leaks due to ice and snow melting). Before you contact your insurance company, you need to be an expert on your policy.
Document, document, document
When you call your insurer to report the loss, document everything. Write down the time and date of every call, what was said, by whom and the next steps. If you own a business, document all of the damage to equipment, supplies and property. Also document the loss of revenues because many business-interruption policies provide coverage that will pay for a defined amount of expenses when a business is unable to operate and serve its customers due to a covered loss.
Don't accept first settlement
After you report a loss, the insurance company will send an adjuster to inspect the damage and prepare a written assessment of the repairs required. Most adjusters use replacement-cost software to prepare their reports, and the costs for materials and contractors are typically based on regional or national averages. The adjuster then provides the report to the insurance company claims supervisor, who will then send you a check based on the coverage in your policy and the adjuster's report.
If your loss is large and extensive, don't deposit the check until you have carefully reviewed the adjuster's report and agree with all items and costs. Look for things such as partial or incomplete measurements, and low-balled contractors costs.
Also be careful to check the labor costs, which may be significantly less than what it will actually cost to pay local labor and tradesmen to repair your loss. If this is the case, return the first check, request that the adjuster revise the report and request a check for the correct cost.