As Hurricane Nate threatens the Gulf Coast and large sections of the United States, including Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, begin the long recovery process from hurricanes, floods, windstorms and wildfires, many are turning to their insurance agents for help.
In the aftermath of any type of major catastrophe, it can be difficult to know where to begin and what to do when. PC360 spoke with Patrick Gee, senior vice president of Claim at Travelers, about what insureds can do to help their agents process the claims more efficiently.
PC360: Once an insured has contacted an agent, what are the immediate next steps? Is there a difference for homeowners and business owners?
PG: We suggest that homeowners, automobile and business owners report their claims as soon as possible. The sooner you contact your agent or insurance company, the sooner the agent or carrier can respond. All insurance companies have their own process, but at Travelers, once the loss is reported, whether it’s a business owner or homeowner, a Claim customer service representative will document the details and provide guidance on immediate next steps.
PC360: If people have been told to evacuate, what do they need to be aware of before returning to their homes or businesses?
PG: First, don’t go back to the affected areas until authorities say it’s safe to do so. Even after the government officials give the okay, there are still hazards to be aware of:
— Avoid downed power lines. Never touch anything in contact with power lines, including water that may be near the downed power lines.
— Be wary of gas lines that may have been damaged or broken during the storm. If a gas leak is suspected, stay out of and away from the property until the utility company deems it safe.
— Be cautious of hazards that are a product of the storm, such as floodwaters, sharp or broken objects, damaged tree limbs or structures that may have been damaged.
PC360: How should insureds document damage to different kinds of property?
PG: Try to separate and inventory any damaged personal property. Take photos and create a list of any damaged contents, including a description of the item, the name of the manufacturer, the brand name and age of the item, if known.
In an ideal world, you will have video inventories of your property taken before the catastrophe occurred. In reality, many people may not have an inventory. But you may have photos of the items in your home or business. Include any existing photographs, videos or previously created personal property inventories.
Take detailed photos of all building property damage as well. You may be able to help protect property from further damage by boarding up broken windows and arranging for reasonable repairs, if needed. The repairs should be temporary until an insurance adjuster has reviewed the damage. Keep accurate records of expenses, and save bills and receipts from temporary repairs.
Don’t attempt to restart vehicles and equipment that may have been damaged by flooding. This can create additional damage.
PC360: What information should an insured be prepared to give an agent or carrier and in what format?
PG: Each company is different, but to report a claim with Travelers we typically ask for contact information, the type of loss (auto or home damage, business interruption, for example), the date the incident occurred and a description of the loss. If this information is not readily available, we recommend calling with whatever information you do have to start the process. We also suggest having detailed expense records, bills and receipts from temporary repairs, as well as a list of damaged property and photographs of damages to provide to the Claim professional.
PC360: Insureds are advised to keep damaged property until an adjuster can look at it, but that can cause issues in itself, for example, mold or vermin. In our neighborhood, after Superstorm Sandy, insurers arranged for dumpsters to be delivered — until they ran out — and we piled all the stuff in them for weeks until the adjuster came. Is this something agents recommend? If a metal dumpster isn't available can the property owner use one of those giant waste bags that functions like a dumpster?
PG: Examples of that might include boarding up broken windows and removing damaged items that may be dangerous or lead to hazardous conditions, like mold or insect infestation. If dumpsters aren’t available, yes, property owners can use large waste bags that function like dumpsters to remove damaged items. In any case, you should take photos of the damage, keep accurate records of expenses and save bills and receipts from temporary repairs.
PC360: In some cases, after a natural disaster, property is determined to be uninhabitable. How can insureds work with agents to find housing or get coverage for living expenses?
PG: You shouldn’t stay in your home if you believe it’s unsafe to do so. If that’s the case, contact the insurance company or independent agent as soon as possible to discuss options for alternate temporary living arrangements.
Make sure to let the agent or carrier know if you have special circumstances that would affect the selection of temporary living arrangements, for example:
- Does someone in the family need a wheelchair or oxygen?
- Does a family member have a medical condition like asthma?
- Do you have family pets that also need to be housed?
- Does a family member need to be near a care facility for chemotherapy or kidney dialysis?
Your insurance company and your agent want to help you after a disaster, and they can help you best when you share as much information with them as soon as possible.