- Determine the Extent of Damage.
An insured has a duty to investigate its loss before filing a claim. This investigation does not need to be overly detailed but should include a determination of where your property has suffered damage. For example, following a hail storm it should be determined whether the roof, gutters, downspouts, and even garage doors have been impacted. This is also a good opportunity to take photographs of the damage to be used as support later. It is important to accurately convey the scope of damage early so the insurance company does not approach your claim with the preconceived notion that the loss is insignificant.
- Mitigate your Damages.
Insurance policies require an insured to mitigate their damages following a loss. Mitigation is the immediate repairs that are performed to reduce the severity of damage and prevent further damage from occurring. The proper level of mitigation is unique to each type of loss. A hail storm may require the tarping of a roof, a fire may require window boarding, and an interior pipe burst may require moisture mitigation. These are just a few examples of the immediate mitigation steps that should be taken but, as always, the proper contractors or professionals should be contacted to determine the extent of necessary work and to perform the mitigation.
- Report your Claim.
The loss should be reported to your agent as soon as possible. You should report that you have suffered damage and provide the contact information for your public adjuster and/or attorney if you have retained one. If you do not have an agent, you will need to file the claim with your insurance company directly. Most of the major insurance companies allow claims to be filed online but each company should allow you to file by phone. If you are in possession of your policy the phone number to call in the event of a loss should be listed. The important thing is to get your claim on file as soon as you can. Any delay may jeopardize your claim and potential result in a denial for late notice.
You should be cautious of any questions asked of you by your agent or the insurance company when reporting your claim. It is important to only say what you actually know about the damage and not try to guess the cause of damage. Questions asked while reporting a claim are often an attempt to lead the claim to an exclusion within the policy and your answers may result in a denial. All the insurance company needs to know is that damage has occurred to your covered property. It is their duty to investigate the loss further.
- Follow up.
You should receive some form of contact from your insurance company within a few days of reporting your loss. If three days have passed and you have received nothing you should immediately follow up with your agent or insurance company to confirm that the claim has been filed.
- Gather Support.
The most important characteristic you can have during your claim is to be proactive. Do not wait for the insurance adjuster to unilaterally determine the extent of damage. You should begin organizing the proper documentation for your loss (i.e. maintenance records, financial records, receipts for mitigation repairs etc.). If repairs or replacement will be necessary, you should obtain a proposal or bid from a contractor of your choice. Finally, for insurance claims where you are unable to represent yourself, you should retain a public adjuster or attorney such as the Insurance Attorney Chicago IL locals trust.
Thanks to authors at Childress, Lous & Plunkett for insight into Insurance Law.