A Storm Related Insurance Claim Denial is Not the End of the Road for Policy Holders
Damage done by Hurricane Sandy may reach historic levels. The economic forecasting firm Eqecat estimates total damages from the storm will range from $30 to $50 billion, with insurers being exposed to $10 to $20 billion in claims. With that much money at stake, insurance companies may be tempted to limit their losses and make it harder for policy holders to collect on valid damage claims.
The law firm of Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein & Blader, PC, in Lawrenceville, NJ has extensive experience helping clients obtaining coverage due to losses from catastrophic disasters. We’ve helped clients suffering damage due to Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Katrina, and we can help clients with insurance claims stemming from Hurricane Sandy too.
Policy holders can take steps to protect their rights and increase the chance of a successful insurance coverage claim.
Insurance companies generally handle claims first come, first served. So take the following steps to help protect your rights:
(1) Get your claim number and write it down. You’ll reference it in future phone calls and correspondence.
(2) Is the adjuster an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster hired by your insurer?
- If the person is independent, get the name of the actual insurance company employee to whom the independent adjuster is sending your information.
- Get the name and contact information for the adjuster.
- Find out an expected timeframe for the report and request a copy.
(3) Who is authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company? Call and/or send correspondence to that person in the future.
(4) Avoid firms that demand up-front fees for services, regardless of the outcome they negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company. Public adjusters work purely on a contingency basis, ensuring that a homeowner does not pay anything unless he or she receives some form of settlement.
(5) Anticipate possible objections by the insurance company by creating documentation.
- When you file a claim, take notes detailing all your contacts with the insurance company. List the date, time and a brief description of who said what.
- Take photographs of the damage before any repair work starts.
- Make an itemized list of all damage sustained during the storm and its aftermath.
- Do all you can to minimize secondary damage. Your homeowner's policy requires that you "mitigate damage," which means taking reasonable steps to prevent further damage.
- Get a repair estimate from a contractor to help you talk with the adjuster.
- Keep receipts for any emergency repairs, and costs such as staying in a hotel. This may be reimbursable under the "additional living expense" portion of your homeowners' policy.
(6) Don't just file the claim, follow up. Check in regularly with your insurance agent or company on the progress of your claim.
(7) If your insurer denies your claim or offers a minor amount, don't just accept it. Ask the company for the basis in your policy for the denial or offering so little. The company may be right, but you won’t know until you or your attorney look into it.
(8) Once the company identifies the key language in the policy, you should be able to make this determination. It could be new limitations in the policy that weren’t made clear to you. If you feel misled, consider contacting an attorney. You can also file a complaint with the state insurance department (http://www.state.nj.us/dobi/division_insurance/index.htm). It will make an inquiry with your insurer. Contact a lawyer if you want to take it a step further.
Once the insurance company tells you the reasons for its action, it legally can't rely on new reasons for denying payment or making a low offer at a later time. You have locked them in, a major advantage for you.
When it comes to disputed claims, courts have ruled against insurance companies when judges view the policies as ambiguously worded. Courts have reasoned that the reasonable expectation of the insured party should prevail since the consumer played no part in writing the language of the insurance policy.
Policy owners pay premiums for a reason: so their valid claims will be paid. Despite your efforts, if a policy holder’s insurance claim is rejected, Szaferman Lakind can help. Contact Ryan Marrone at (609) 275-0400 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Szaferman Lakind is a full service law firm providing representation to clients in general, commercial and environmental litigation; family law and personal injury; commercial finance and employment law; tax and estate law; alternative dispute resolution and residential and commercial real estate, including land use development. The firm can be reached at (609) 275-0400 or email@example.com. Our website is www.szaferman.com.