Filed Under:Agent Broker, Coverage Issues

Filing a blizzard-related claim? Here's what you should do

Boats are trapped in ice that clogs the James River as it flows past downtown Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP Photo)
Boats are trapped in ice that clogs the James River as it flows past downtown Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP Photo)

If you are among the estimated 80 million Americans in 20 states affected by Winter Storm Jonas, you’re probably dealing with melting snow and assessing any damage to your residence, motor vehicles or business this week.

You also may be contemplating filing a claim with your insurance carrier — and keeping your fingers crossed that there are no major storms until your damaged can be repaired!

According to the Insurance Information Institute, there are some things you can do to make the process go more smoothly:

Blizzard flood in New Jersey

With an abandoned car stuck nearby in their flooded street, John Albright and wife Patti Albright, clean debris from their garage after flooding, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Sea Isle City, N.J. (Photo: Mel Evans/AP Photo)

Call your agent or broker sooner rather than later

In the event of storm-related damage, the institute advises that you contact your insurance professional as soon as possible. You need to let the agent or claims processor know how extensive your damage is and where they can reach you if you can’t stay in your residence or business location.

If your claim is for flood insurance, contact the agent or broker who sold you the policy — which isn’t always the same entity that provided your other policies.

The institute explains that the claims process begins when the insurance company asks you to complete a “proof of claim” form. Most policies require you to file the claim within 60 days, and you’ll have to include estimates, engineering reports and other documents to support your claim. After the company receives your documentation, an adjuster usually will contact you to see the property and assess the damage.

Related: Here are 5 ways to protect your business from natural disasters 

Man-clearing-snow-off-house-awning-from-second-floor-window-Blizzard-Jan-2016-crop-AP_197529660047-Steve Ruark

Shawn Covelly knocks snow off his awning, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Towson, Md. (Photo: Steve Ruark/AP Photo)

When filing an insurance claim, the institute recommends taking the following steps, depending on the type of claim that you’re filing:

Homeowners and Renters insurance claims

  • Prepare a list of damaged items and consider photographing or videotaping the extent of the damage, if it’s safe to do so.
  • Save receipts for what you spend on temporary repairs; the insurance company generally will provide reimbursement for these expenditures. You can use your smartphone to help you document everything by taking pictures of receipts and uploading them to a storage website like Dropbox or iCloud or to your computer.
  • Notify the insurance company if the damage to your home is so severe that you need to relocate. Most standard homeowners and renters insurance policies pay for additional living expenses (ALE) if your home or apartment is uninhabitable.
  • Keep in mind that if you have a mortgage on your home, your homeowners insurance may name both you and your mortgage lender on the settlement check. Even though your name is on the check, your lender likely will hold some or all of the insurance proceeds in an escrow account, to be released when it’s time to pay the contractor.

Related: Can you successfully subrogate snow-removal claims? 

Coastal-Flooding-Blizzard_Jan-2016-North-Wildwood-N-JAP_473254803498-Robb Nunzio

Coastal flooding from a winter snowstorm inundates houses along West 7th Avenue, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in North Wildwood, N.J. (Photo: Robb Nunzio/AP Photo)

Flood insurance claims

  • Use the National Flood Insurance Program Notice of Loss form (Form 086-0-11), or pick one up at a local Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance center. After that, you must complete, sign and submit a Proof of Loss form (Form 086-0-9) within 60 days of the flood, just like a Homeowners policy.
  • Take photographs of any damaged or destroyed items before removing them from your home or starting any dry out or repairs. Separate damaged from undamaged property and then compile a written inventory. The list should include both damaged and destroyed property, as well as the approximate dollar value of each item.
  • Keep accurate records, including receipts and bills, to help the adjuster prepare a loss estimate.

Related: 10 factors to consider when adjusting flood claims 

Car accident in blizzard

A Virginia State police officer and a tow truck operator work an accident along interstate 95 near Richmond, Va., Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP Photo) 

Auto insurance claims

  • Review your Auto policy or speak with your insurance professional to determine whether the damage to your vehicle is covered. Many winter-related incidents fall under the optional comprehensive or collision portion of an Auto policy. Comprehensive covers the damage incurred, for instance, if a tree limb falls on a vehicle, or if it is flooded. Collision pays for damage resulting from hitting another car or an object, or if the vehicle flips over.
  • Contact your agent or broker to find out how to proceed and what forms or documents will be needed to support your claim. Your insurance company will require a “proof of claim” form and, in the event of an accident, possibly a copy of the police report — if there is one.
  • If the vehicle that was damaged was used in your business and was operated by one of your employees, make sure that you also provide the employee’s name and contact information to the insurance professional.
  • Fill out the claim forms carefully. Keep good records. Get the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with and copies of any bills related to the damage.

Unfortunately, winter isn’t over, and in the Northeast, some of the fiercest storms occur in February and early March. If you don’t have a storm-related claim from Jonas, count your blessings — but hang on to this information. It could come in handy in case of another storm this winter.

Related: 10 safest and most hazardous U.S. cities for driving in bad weather

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