Minimizing Your Loss
This is, perhaps, the number one defense used in property cases by insurance companies – that the insured (homeowner, business owner . . . person ... YOU – failed to protect his or her property after the loss, thereby increasing the destruction to the property and making it impossible for the insurance company to differentiate between the loss and the pre–disaster condition of the property. Remember: You may make a request to the insurance company for an advance of money on your claim with which to protect the property from further damage. A good time to make this request is when you give notice of your loss.
What to do to protect your property after a loss
1. Take Pictures. Take pictures, videos, or even make drawings of your property immediately after a loss showing the damage that it has sustained.
2. Make the Property Safe. You don't want anyone to get hurt because of the condition of your property. Pick up debris, brace damaged roofs and walls, shut off the gas and electrical service, and remove potential sources of ignition, such as cans of kerosene, gasoline, paint thinner, etc. Don't make permanent repairs. An insurance company may deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before it inspects the damage. Save all receipts.
3. Protect the Property from Moisture. Water destroys everything. Take common–sense steps to prevent water and moisture from penetrating your damaged property. First, pump out any large amounts of water that have accumulated. Then dry out the inside of the house or building using mops, wet–vacuums, and drying compounds. If you have clothes, records, or equipment that can be damaged by moisture, try to find a safe place to store them away from the site of the damaged property. Make only emergency repairs to protect your property until an adjuster inspects the damage. Again, don't make permanent repairs. Save all receipts.
4. Protect the Property from Trespassers. Board up any missing windows, doors, or breaks in the walls or roof. If you have an alarm system, take steps to bring it back on line. If necessary, hire a security service to watch your property (or station a family member to stand guard) until some semblance of order is restored. Save all receipts.
5. Prepare for an Appraisal. In a property loss, a supposedly well–trained adjuster for the insurance company will come to your site and hopefully take pictures, make drawings and take copious notes concerning the condition of your structure, and the personal property contained inside. Unfortunately, if you are only one of a large number of people affected, for example, by hurricane damage to an entire region of the state, it is less likely you will get the benefit of an experienced, knowledgeable adjuster from the insurance company. What you will most likely get is anyone they can lay their hands on.
6. Be there when the adjuster comes! If you are forced to leave, leave some type of sign with your temporary location, phone number and the name of your insurance company.
When he or she arrives, the insurance company adjuster should "scope" the property, that is, use a worksheet to list items of loss and different columns reflecting the cost of replacement, value of the item at the time of loss, value of the item when purchased, and depreciation. This is where an adjustment of your loss becomes tricky and you may want to hire a "public adjuster," an adjuster to represent your interests, and have a second opinion on the scope of loss drawn up. If you do need to hire a public adjuster, be aware that they usually charge a percentage of your claim payment, for making an appraisal, and they are limited, in some jurisdictions, at least, in what services they can provide (they cannot practice law!).
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