Weather-related home insurance claims can be a whole separate ball game from other home claims. “Weather losses are always more complicated because you’ve got thousands of people experiencing losses at the same time. These events are taxing on the entire community, whereas if you have one loss, such as a water main break in your building or a fire loss, as devastating as it may be to the homeowner, they still have access to necessary things such as hotel rooms, lawyers, insurance agents, etc.” says Ron Papa, president and CEO at National Fire Adjustment Co. in Buffalo, N.Y., a public insurance adjuster firm.
Here are 10 things homeowners should know about weather related claims:
1. FEMA only pays for temporary living expenses
If a home is destroyed in a storm that the federal government later declared a disaster and grants are made available, claims still need to be maid through the homeowner’s primary insurance company, according to John Marini, chief operating officer and president at Adjusters International in Syracuse, N.Y.
“Policyholders should understand that their home insurance is their primary source of coverage. FEMA only pays after insurance. For example, when Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast in 2012, FEMA determined that there was enough damage to make an ‘individual assistance’ declaration and they provided grants to homeowners to help them with temporary living expenditures, such as finding food and shelter, etc. These grants were not intended to rebuild their homes,” says Marini.
2. One storm can be categorized as multiple events requiring separate deductibles
Tornadoes recently hit Oklahoma City and destroyed many homes. For those homeowners who sustained property damage, what seemed like one large storm was labeled by their insurance companies as multiple tornadoes.
Why does this matter? Because multiple tornadoes require separate deductibles. That could mean homeowners might have to pay more than one deductible to repair their home if the home suffered separate damage on different days.
3. There is a 30-Day waiting period for flood insurance to kick in
Flood insurance is separate from a regular home insurance policy. Stephen Figlin, senior vice president of Young Adjustment Company in Philadelphia, says that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is administered by a group of insurance companies that were selected by FEMA to manage the program.
“Today, one of my clients asked me why they got a letter of the extension from FEMA when their [flood] insurance policy was purchased through Travelers. I explained that Travelers is only the service entity for NFIP through FEMA. Since there is no flood insurance coverage in your typical homeowner’s policy, NFIP policies must be purchased in order to be reimbursed for flood damage,” says Figlin.
And if there’s a storm approaching, it’s already too late to buy flood insurance. There’s a 30-Day waiting period after the purchase before the coverage actually takes effect.
4. Catastrophe claims take a long time
When storms hit, almost every homeowner affected files insurance claims immediately following the event. This means insurance company adjusters are inundated with claims, phone calls, and questions.
“In emergency situations, people have to understand that due to the large volume of claims that can happen at one time, it sometimes takes longer than usual for insurance professionals to arrive on the scene, work with them and turn around results,” says Figlin. “Although these can be very stressful events for consumers, I advise homeowners to be patient with the process.”
5. Catastrophe adjusters can change frequently so document everything
During catastrophes, insurance companies may send in large teams of adjusters to deal with the high volume of claims. According to Papa, catastrophe adjusters are often not permanent employees of the insurance company but rather contractors who are hired on a loss-by-loss basis to handle weather disasters across the nation. For that reason, they may only be available for a short time.
“Unfortunately, catastrophe adjusters may move on to other areas or go back home before claims are closed and then homeowners have to start again when the next group of adjusters arrives on the scene. This can be very frustrating for consumers. I recommend that homeowners keep their own files and document everything, including who they have spoken to and what they have been told. This way, they won’t have to start from ground zero every time their file changes hands,” says Papa.
6. Volunteers can remove items and make it hard to get claims paid
Removal of debris by volunteers can be a major problem when it comes time for homeowners to submit property inventories to their insurance companies.
Alice Young of public adjusting firm Brown – O’Haver in Oklahoma City said that after the tornadoes hit Oklahoma, volunteers from all over the world came to help those who were affected by the storms. Although their intentions were good, some volunteers threw away damaged items that had not yet been accounted for by homeowners.
“We appreciate the volunteers. It’s just that the volunteers don’t always understand the insurance process, and neither do the insureds. So, after the tornadoes, all these volunteers were coming in and they were trying to help by taking things off of the property and throwing them away. This resulted in many residents not being able to get a full inventory of their belongings. I suggest that homeowners use their volunteers to their advantage by asking them to help make lists of damaged goods without removing any debris,” says Young.
7. Extreme weather events are occurring more frequently
Insurance experts point to climate change as the biggest risk for insurers. Hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards, tornadoes. All of these weather-related events are forcing insurers to pay out more and, in many cases, increasing rates to make up the added costs.
Natural disasters caused an estimated $340 billion in damage in 2017. Insurers paid $138 billion on those worldwide loses. That’s putting a dent into insurance companies.
8. Many people are underinsured for storm damage
A large percentage of homeowners hit by recent hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires were underinsured, says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group in San Francisco.
“We have found that many homeowners were not able to rebuild after weather disasters because their policies weren’t large enough to cover the costs,” said Bach. “I recommend that homeowners get at least two opinions about the replacement value of their home for purposes of setting adequate dwelling limits so they can make sure that their policies will cover the cost of rebuilding if disaster strikes. Be careful about relying 100% on the number set by you insurer.”
9. Wildfires are treated like regular fires
A fire is a fire. Insurance policies don’t differentiate between wildfires and, say, kitchen fires. “They’re considered the same thing. The problem is that most [wildfires] are total losses,” says Scott deLuise, president of Matrix Business Consulting in Broomfield, Colorado.
10. Homeowners may need to hire an engineer after a weather disaster
Weather claims can raise serious questions about what damage was caused by the storm and what was pre-existing.
“If the insured is going to spend money on one thing, they need to get their own engineer after a weather event, because they need to know for themselves whether or not the damage was caused by the weather event. If it is, then they need to have support for this finding from an engineer,” says Young. “I’ve seen in Oklahoma insurance companies trying to say that the houses are just settling and that damage happened before the tornado rather than as a result of the tornado. Engineers can counter those statements.”
After any damaging weather event, Papa advises consumers to notify their insurance companies immediately, take photographs of all damage and try to prevent further property loss by securing the area.
Public insurance adjusters, who are adjusters hired by homeowners, can help organize and submit successful claims and are especially helpful for large losses.
“Weather claims can be especially challenging, but the sooner you get the claims process started, the better,” Papa says.
Article By: Marjorie Musick