Two pieces of news provide a flicker of hope amid the doom and gloom.
NEW YORK, Dec. 20 -- The Insurance Information Institute issued the following news release:
An estimated 1.38 million claims were made on homes, businesses and vehicles from superstorm Sandy, second only to Hurricane Katrina, which produced 1.7 million claims in 2005. Despite the high volume of claims, some homeowners insurers have found the settlement process easier because they understood how the claim process works, noted the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
During major events like Sandy, insurance companies deploy adjusters, claim processors and other personnel to the disaster area as soon as the state and local authorities allow them access. Like homeowners, insurers want to settle claims quickly in order to avoid additional damage to the property.
If you have already filed your claim and the adjuster has visited, what is next? The I.I.I. offers four tips for working efficiently and effectively with your insurance company:
1. Keep in touch with your adjuster.
Your insurance adjuster may have additional questions for you after his or her initial visit. If you respond quickly to those questions, it will help your claim move along efficiently. Establish what the next step in the claims process is and when you will be hearing from your insurance company. If you do not hear back in a timely manner, call the adjuster or your insurance professional.
2. Review the adjuster's report carefully.
After an adjuster inspects your loss, he or she will prepare a written assessment of what needs to be repaired, what items need to be replaced and estimated costs for each. It is important to know that adjusters typically use a replacement cost computer program to prepare their reports and the costs for materials and contractors will be based on regional or national averages. The adjuster will provide their report to the claims supervisor, who will then issue you a check based on the coverage in your policy and the information in the adjuster's report.
If you have a mortgage on the damaged property, the mortgage lender may also be named on the insurance settlement check. Because of this, you will have to endorse the check and send it to the mortgage company. The mortgage lender will often create an escrow account to hold these funds and then disburse the monies to you in installments to pay the contractors and builders.
You should show the mortgage lender your contractor's bid and specify how much the contractor wants up front to start the job. Your mortgage company may want to inspect the finished job before releasing the funds for payment. If you do not get a separate check from your insurance company for the contents of your home and other expenses, be aware that the lender should release the insurance payments that do not relate to the structure of the dwelling. It should also release funds that exceed the balance of the mortgage.
3. Review the adjuster's offer.
Once your property loss is assessed and your claim is approved, there is likely to be a discussion with your insurance company over the settlement offer. Keep in mind, this is all a process and if you are dissatisfied with the amount offered, contact the adjuster. When you receive the first check from the insurance company, do not deposit it or send it to your mortgage company until you have carefully reviewed the adjuster's report and have decided whether you agree with all items and costs.
4. How to negotiate with your insurance company.
If, after reviewing the adjuster's report you still do not agree with the insurance company's settlement offer, provide documentation stating why you believe you are entitled to more money. You can file an appeal with your insurer for a larger settlement.
If you are dissatisfied at any point in the claims process, put your complaint in writing. Be complete but concise, professional and polite. Be specific in your written complaint and include: the specific issue or problem; a specific request for resolution; and a recommended response time frame. Also, it's a good idea to copy the complaint to a supervisor or manager. Make sure to ask the insurer if they require any additional information from you and when they need it.
If your appeal is not granted, contact your state insurance department which may intervene on your behalf. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a website (http://www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm) that provides information on New York (http://www.dfs.ny.gov/), New Jersey (http://www.state.nj.us/dobi/index.html) and other state insurance departments.
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