Submitting insurance claims after Irene

August 29, 2011 1:50:57 PM PDT
Less than 24 hours after Irene struck, the Hurley's launched into insurance claim mode. They've already documented the damage, picture by picture.

"Take pictures of what I'm throwing away, write down all things throwing away and then call your agent," Bobbi Hurley of Elmsford said.

Fortunately, the Hurleys have flood insurance. A standard homeowner's policy is limited to damage caused by wind or by fallen trees, and damage from lightning or from water from above such as rain through broken windows or a roof.

"If the tree falls on your house you're going to be covered by your home insurance," Jeanne Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute said.

Salvatore says the Hurley's detailed approach maximizes your policy.

"The better you can substantiate your loss, the easier your process will be," she said.

But Fran Cerone dreads going through the claims process. She's done it before when there was less damage than Irene and the insurance company she says greatly underestimated repair costs:

"They stand by you and pay insurance, but impractical, unrealistic - you cannot rebuild repair with the money they give you, Cerone said.

You often hear horror stories about insurance companies that are stonewalling or stalling, trying to wriggle out of their claim responsibility, how do we avoid that?

"The best way really is to document that loss. Insurance companies are working hard to make sure they get adjusters out immediately and handle those claims quickly and fairly," Salvatore said.

If your home suffered any damage, start the claims process as soon as possible.

Be aware that after you file a claim, in most cases, your insurance company will arrange to send an adjuster out to investigate.


If you had to evacuate, ideally you brought along a copy of your homeowners policy in your emergency kit. That's because you'll need the policy number to begin the claims process. But if you can't provide it, your insurance company should be able to call up the number in its systems.

If you have your policy in hand, check to make sure you're covered for hurricane damage, and what your hurricane deductible is. These amounts apply only to hurricane-related damage, and typically range from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of the home. Homeowners will have to cover any deductible before collecting on a claim. Often, in areas like New England where hurricanes are less common, deductibles can be high.

To file a claim, you'll need to explain what sort of damage your house sustained. If it is safe to do so, walk around and through the house and make a list of all visible signs of damage, and any affected contents.

Pictures are helpful for illustrating the extent of the damage, especially if they can be compared with "before" photos. Don't throw away damaged items until an insurance adjuster sees them, in order to help ensure full coverage. Items that are unsafe can be photographed and discarded if necessary.

If the house can't be occupied, make sure to keep receipts for any hotel rooms, restaurant receipts, and any associated expenses. Most homeowner's policies cover living expenses when a homeowner is forced out of their house, although there is usually a deductible associated.


Insurers expect homeowners to protect their property from further damage whenever possible. That means you should cover any broken windows and make any other temporary repairs that it's safe to make.

During this process, keep a list of any steps you've taken and a complete list of the supplies you've purchased. Your insurance company will reimburse you for any reasonable expenses to make temporary repairs.

Claims adjusters will in most cases visit a home to assess the damage. Hold off on making any significant repairs until that visit takes place or your insurance company gives the go-ahead.

You should start to find a licensed contractor to provide a written estimate for any repairs. Ultimately, you'll need to provide this to the adjuster. The estimates should detail what materials will be used and provide an estimate of the labor costs. It's common for contractors to charge more after a widespread disaster because their work is in higher demand, so be prepared to pay extra. Materials costs can rise, as well, if shortages develop in affected areas.

Once the adjuster settles on an amount, the insurance company will then typically provide a check upfront for the cash value of the repair, and cover any difference after the work is done. Specific rules on payments vary by state.


Homeowner's insurance policies rarely cover flood-related damage. In almost all cases, separate flood insurance is required.

The National Flood Insurance Program is the main source for flood insurance policies in the U.S., though private insurers write and administer most policies backed by the federal government. Contact the company that provided your flood insurance to begin a claim.

Standard flood policies cover the cost of structural damage, major appliances and equipment, such as furnaces and water heaters, and any associated cleanup. Coverage for your personal belongings typically requires an additional rider on the policy.

If you have coverage for your personal property, you'll need to be able to provide a detailed inventory of anything that was damaged or destroyed. This should include a description of each item, the date of purchase or at least an estimate, the cost of the item and an approximate replacement cost.

If you don't have flood insurance, there may be federal disaster assistance available. All of the states impacted by Irene declared disasters, many before the storm hit, which is required for federal help to kick in. That may come in the form of grants or low-cost loans.


For those recovering from Irene, here's additional information about coverage from hurricane-related damages:

- Hurricane deductibles: Out-of-pocket expenses for damages from hurricanes can be much higher than from other types of disasters. Standard homeowners policies include deductibles of either $500 or $1,000, meaning the homeowner must pay that amount before insurance covers the rest of the damages.

But in 18 states on the East and Gulf coasts, insurers are allowed to include hurricane deductibles in homeowners policies. These amounts apply only to hurricane-caused damage, and typically range from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of a home. Deductibles may be higher in some coastal areas, and vary among insurers. For example, a policyholder whose home is insured for $200,000 with a 2 percent hurricane deductible would have to pay the first $4,000 to repair hurricane damage. The hurricane-prone states that allow insurers to assess hurricane deductibles include: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The District of Columbia is included.

- Renters insurance: Policies for renters cover belongings damaged by storm winds. For flood coverage, most policies require that separate coverage be purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program. Structural damage to an apartment building is covered under the building owner's policy.

- Property other than the main house: Standard homeowners policies cover wind damage to attached garages or decks, as well as unattached structures, such as a separate garage, or a shed or swimming pool. Contents of those structures also are covered.

- Fallen trees: Homeowners policies do not pay to remove trees that fall without damaging the house, or another structure on the property. There is coverage if the house or structure is damaged. If a tree on your property falls on a neighbor's home, the neighbor's coverage generally will cover damages.

- Cars: If your automobile is damaged by flood waters from a hurricane or other disaster, expect coverage if you've purchased comprehensive auto insurance, which covers damages from causes other than collisions. About 80 percent of U.S. drivers have comprehensive coverage. If you've only got liability coverage, flood damage to a car won't be covered.

- Spoiled food: Many homeowners have been left with spoiled food after Irene knocked out electricity to refrigerators and freezers. After hurricanes, most insurers cover food spoilage. You're generally entitled to $250 to $500 per refrigerator or freezer.


Here's the contact information for filing claims with the most common carriers. If your company is not on this list, check your policy paperwork or company's website for details, or visit .

Allstate: 800-54-STORM (800-547-8676.)
Chubb Group of Insurance Cos.: 800-CLAIMS-0 (800-252-4670.)
The Hartford: 800-243-5860.
Mapfre/Commerce Insurance: Massachusetts 1-800-221-1605. New Hampshire 1-800-513-4813.
Liberty Mutual Insurance 800-2-CLAIMS (800-225-2467.)
Nationwide 800-421-3535.
State Farm Insurance 800-SF-CLAIM (800-732-5246.)
USAA 800-531-8722.

Several companies, including State Farm, Allstate, Liberty Mutual and USAA, also have smartphone apps that can help in claims filing and tracking.