Negotiating Insurance Claims

The below article was published in The Standard-Times, The Narragansett Times, The East Greenwich Pendulum, The Chariho Times and The Coventry Courier  newspapers.

Negotiating Insurance Claims: Ten tips to prepare for storm, wind or water damage

Between household accidents and natural disasters, homeowners insurance claims have become an integral part of home ownership. From the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 to the recent tropical storms and hurricanes in the Southeast, flooding has threatened countless American homes over the past several decades. Now that the 2008 hurricane season is in full swing, below are ten tips

to prepare you should storm, wind or water damage find its way to your home.

1.  Tap into your network:  During times of loss, a little assistance can go a long way.  If you have a family member, friend or business associate who is a claims adjuster or otherwise involved in the insurance business, ask him or her for advice immediately.  The informed guidance of a few friendly “insiders” will influence how you choose to approach filing and managing your claim. 

 

2.  Prepare to fight:  Be prepared for a good, long fight.  The most important piece of leverage you have on your side is time.  The more time you are able to devote to gathering records, documenting expenses and capturing photographs, the larger your settlement check will be.  Take photos at the first sight of damage.  Save all receipts related to the inconvenience of being displaced from your home.  This includes hotel, restaurant meals and even the expense of developing your photos. 

 

3.  Keep excellent records: Keep a record of all phone calls and voice mails associated with the claim.  If you simply don’t have the time to type up every voice mail, many telephone service providers now enable you to store your voice mails online.  Create a one page document with useful phone numbers.  Since the early days of a home disaster can be truly overwhelming, it is a great source of control to have all the contact information you need in one place.  Include phone numbers for insurance company representatives, potential lawyers, contractor referrals and other impacted neighbors. 

 

4.  Demand acceptable housing:  The insurance company may attempt to locate you in a part of town that is more affordable for them, but not so convenient for you.  You have every right to insist on a housing location that enables you to attend to the restoration of your home, fulfill your work obligations and remain safe.  Explain what your needs are and, if the insurance company is unwilling to approve a hotel or short-term housing alternative that is acceptable to you, ask for a cash equivalent so that you can make your own living arrangements.

 

5.  Get to know the estimator:  Once emergency services are complete, the insurance company will send an estimator to survey the damage.  This visit is particularly critical in that it will determine the first reimbursement check amount that is offered to you.  You should be sure to meet the estimator in person, prepared with receipts and invoices that support full replacement costs for any structural items that are damaged beyond repair.  Point out any damage you fear the estimator will overlook.  Focus on the highest priced items, keeping in mind that it is unlikely you will receive top dollar for every piece of your property.  Utilize your “big wins” to address smaller items that may not be covered by the policy. 

 

6.  Challenge the estimate:  Once the estimator has completed his analysis, the insurance company will send you a settlement offer.  While it may seem like a fair amount, you can be certain that it will not be the best offer you can get.  The insurance company is hoping you will accept this proposal, as most victims do, so that you can move forward with the repairs to your home.  If you can be patient, however, there are a number of tactics you can employ to achieve a larger settlement.  Put together a letter that clearly communicates why the settlement amount is too low.  Procure estimates from at least three contractors and use them to identify areas in which the insurance company estimates are off base.  If the total restoration costs in any of your contractors’ bids are higher than the insurance company’s offer, attach them to your letter.   

 

7.  Negotiate hard:  If you feel passionate about a particular item, but are shut down by the insurance company early on, request to have the issue classified as an open item.  This negotiating tactic can prove extremely effective for damaged fixtures you feel strongly about, but that you might not be able to make an argument for during the early stages of the claim.  You may gain leverage as negotiations continue since, at some point, your insurance agent will become increasingly eager to settle.  Insist on a visual inspection, which can communicate the damage more effectively than you may be able to communicate via phone conversations and photographs.  Prioritize your asks.  Enter into each call or meeting with a clear idea of which components of the settlement offer are ones you can live with, and which ones are clearly unacceptable. 

 

8.  Engage professional help:  If the insurance company does not revise its offer, and the claim is filed under your homeowner’s insurance policy (as opposed to a third party’s liability policy), you can hire an independent public adjuster for a few hundred dollars.  The public adjuster will survey the damage and give you an unbiased assessment of your repair costs.  If your public adjuster’s analysis is not successful in influencing the insurance company, you may be able to bring the matter to arbitration.  Ask for a copy of the policy’s arbitration clause.  If arbitration should fail, you can threaten to initiate a lawsuit.  Keep in mind, however, that once you’ve made the decision to have an attorney represent you, you are no longer permitted to engage in direct contact with the insurance company.  Another option is to file a complaint through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners at http://www.naic.org.  An agent will be assigned to your case and will contact the insurance company to probe into your claim. 

 

9.  Request a supervisor:  If you are generally unsatisfied with your experience, it will pay great dividends to request that a supervisor be assigned to your claim.  This will generate a greater sense of urgency on the insurance agency’s part.   Because supervisors have a greater amount of authority with which to negotiate, they are also more likely to compromise with you. 

 

10.  Beware of the release: Never sign a release until you are completely satisfied that you have been fully compensated for your loss.  Once you sign a release, even if additional expenses should arise during the restoration of your home, you forfeit the right to be compensated for any further damage. 

 

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2 Responses to “Negotiating Insurance Claims”

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    Peter Quinn

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