How to File a Disaster Claim After Hurricane Sandy

Insurance, News

Damage from a disaster is devastating; after the trauma of surviving Hurricane Sandy, homeowners returning to damaged or destroyed homes will embark on the drudgery of insurance claims and home repairs. Here’s how to make your disaster insurance claim.

Assessing the Damage and Filing an Insurance Claim

Get a copy of all insurance policies that could cover damage to or loss of your property, and read them thoroughly. In a best case scenario, you bought coverage that covers the replacement cost of your destroyed home instead of the depreciated cash value of your belongings. Seeing what’s covered is important, but it’s also important to know where you might not be covered; if property wasn’t protected properly (according to your insurance company’s standards), it won’t be covered.  Be aware of how certain items were damaged; for instance, if your car was damaged by a neighbor’s tree being blown on top of it, you may need to be talking to the neighbors (and/or a lawyer), not your own insurance company.  Think flood insurance covers all your treasures in the basement?  Think again.  You’re most likely covered only for structural damage and electrical in the basement.  You may however, be covered for hotel stays while your power is out (or while a tree is residing in your bedroom at home and snow pours through the gaping hole in your roof), so find out what’s covered to save money. Be careful not to cause further damage to property — especially your car — by waiting to use any electrical until everything is dried out.

Being Proactive

It’s also very important to be aware of your insurance policy’s time limits.  Statutes of limitations for making damage claims could be shorter than you think, so be quick but thorough in making your claim, as well as in getting bids (in writing) for repairing damages to your property. Federal flood insurance typically carries a 60-day deadline, though it often gets extended after extreme events. You’ll also want to find out if your insurance company can give you enough money to rebuild your home to current building codes, which may have changed and could add extra costs.  Pictures of your home and belongings before the disaster will be helpful in making your claims.  Always follow up any phone communication with your insurance company with a letter, keeping copies of everything for you to reference later.

Also, don’t count on your insurance company to fix everything; clean up and dry out your house to avoid further damage — mold can be even more of a headache than the flood’s initial damage.

Where to Get Disaster Relief

Help fixing the damage may be available in the form of federal grants and loans, whether you already have flood insurance or not.  People wishing to help can donate to organizations providing shelter, food, water, and medical supplies to disaster victims.  The Red Cross is saying blood donations are especially helpful right now.

If you need help from the Red Cross — which has deployed over 1,000 workers at shelters in seven different states and has pulled together 230,000 shelf-stable meals and more than 170 emergency vehicles for the disaster — you can find a shelter in your area online or call your local Red Cross chapter.

If you are worried about how your finances may be affected by the disaster and are a member of a credit union, you can contact the National Credit Union Administration at (800) 755-1030 to ask financial questions relating to the disaster. Non-members in the affected areas, can get financial support under certain condition as well. See their website for full details.

An attorney’s advice can be essential in a sticky situation like that of severe home damage, especially if the situation is complicated by having been in the process of foreclosure or even remodeling when the disaster hit.  Should you need to hire an attorney in a battle with an insurance company, make sure you get any communication from the insurance company in writing.  Be sure to hire an attorney with plenty of experience (in your state) with first-party insurance claims, particularly someone familiar with homeowner’s insurance policies and the like.

In Summary – Steps to Hurricane Recovery:.

1. Read your insurance policy carefully.

2. Clean up and dry out your stuff (carefully) and assess the damage. Take pictures of any damage you with to claim.

3. Get bids on repairs (in writing) and submit to insurance companies — within your time limit for making a clam.

4. Contact an attorney — with copies of all communication from your insurance company — if you think your claims have been unfairly denied.

5. Seek out government help if needed.