Making an Insurance Claim
No one wants to be in a situation where they have to file an insurance claim. But, when disaster strikes, being prepared and knowing the steps to take will make the process flow easier in an already stressful situation.
- Contact your insurance carrier and report the loss immediately. “Briefly describe the extent of the damage to allow the carrier to triage the claim to the appropriate adjuster, or even possibly handle it over the telephone,” says Chris Cargill, commercial claims technical director at Nationwide, Columbus, OH. “It’s like diagnosing injuries in an emergency room. We want to find out who can best take care of you.
- You’ll then be assigned to a claims adjuster. “At that point, they will help you determine what the loss was and how big it is,” explains Keith Domagala, operations vice president and engineering manager at Affiliated FM, Providence, RI. “The primary objective of an adjuster is to provide advice and assistance to help a client mitigate loss and provide accurate interpretation for policy coverage.”
- Provide as many contact numbers as possible for several key people when phoning in a claim, including cell and home phone numbers, to maintain a steady means of contact during the recovery and claims process.
- Protect property from further damage. Provide closure against elements by performing any necessary temporary repairs: tarp damaged roofs, board up windows and doors, restore fire protection after operation and shut-off, and extract any water that has entered the building. “Let your carrier know if there are any breaches that allow elements to enter or further damage to occur,” Cargill says. “That way, they can advise you or make arrangements to get emergency service vendors to your business, if possible.”
- Segregate damaged and undamaged property. Work with your salvage company to determine what can be saved and what cannot. Discard any perishable items. Begin an inventory of business and personal property damages. “If you can obtain documentation of the value of the damaged contents, provide this to the claims rep,” Cargill says, adding that, many times, claims representatives can pay for the damage on first contact. You’ll also need to provide contracts for any leased equipment, such as fax machines and copiers, to help the rep determine who is responsible for the damage.
- Photograph all damage. In an isolated incident, such as fire or flooding, an adjuster will typically visit the site within 24 hours of a claims call. However, in the case of a major catastrophe, wait times could be longer. “Business can’t stand around and wait for people to come and survey the damage,” Cargill says. “Take pictures and do what you need to do in terms of repairs.”
- Keep all receipts. Maintain documentation of all expenses incurred as a result of the disaster, such as repairs, leasing of temporary space or storage facilities, and more. “It’s a lot easier to show [the claims adjuster] a receipt [for] 25 sheets of plywood than to have them count those 25 sheets,” notes Jeff McCollum, a media specialist at State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, IL.
- Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. That’s Domagala’s mantra. “Have a process in place before a loss occurs. Talk with your insurance representative to find out what you’ll need to have in order to prepare a claim long before you need to prepare one,” he says. “When an emergency occurs, you don’t think; you react. If you have a plan in place and practice it and know how it works, you’ll automatically do the right thing at the right time. It relieves the stress level of knowing what to expect and what you can do to protect your building.”
Robin Suttell ([email protected]), Contributing Editor