In this article we will lay out 4 steps of Hurricane Laura claims. In our prior article we briefly touched on some of the experiences, traps, and hurdles you should expect once you initiate your property damage claim.
Hurricane Laura was the largest, strongest hurricane to make landfall in Southwest Louisiana’s recorded history. The storm ravaged Louisiana from its Southwestern cities, like Lake Charles and Cameron, to its Northeastern cities, like Monroe and West Monroe. Louisiana businesses and citizens are now left to pick up the pieces in an attempt to move forward with business and life. Part of this daunting, painful, and lengthy process is to lean on the insurance companies that have accepted your money in the form of premiums for as long as you have owned your commercial or residential property. For many businesses and individuals, this will be the first time navigating a significant property damage insurance claim. Here are 4 steps to follow while handling your insurance claims:
Step 1: Initial Exchange of Information
At the outset, the insurance company will ask for information and documentation relating to your business and property. This initial step often occurs when you first contact your insurance company to report your loss. If this initial communication occurs by phone, you should presume that the call is being recorded.
You are under an obligation to cooperate with the insurance company and assist them in evaluating your claim. As such, you should provide them with your personal information, the name of your business, and the location of your property. If they request documents or other written information, ask that they send you a letter or an email with those requests. This will help you in gathering the information and it will create a written record of the reasonableness of their requests. Upon receipt of these written requests, you must provide the insurance company with the information in your possession or information that is readily available to you through reasonable investigation.
During these initial communications, you must avoid engaging in any discussion about the cause or value of your property damage. This is not the time to share any opinion, guess, or hunch about the cause or value of your damage because any such statement (which is likely being recorded) can be used to reduce or eliminate payments which you may otherwise be entitled. Remember, the insurance representative is an extension of the insurance company, which aims to maximize its profits from your premiums by minimizing loss payments. This is how they make money so they will do what they can to use your statements against you!
If the insurance company continues to press you for information about the cause or value of your damage, you should consider retaining an attorney versus the costly mistake of talking your way out of coverage and loss payment.
Step 2: Property Inspection
In almost all situations, the insurance company will send a representative to inspect your property. This representative will likely be a personable and compassionate insurance adjuster. While the vast majority of insurance adjusters are sincere and helpful, there are some adjusters that inspect your property and investigate your claim with the predetermined intent to minimize your property damage and reduce the value of your claim. There are also some insurance adjusters who avoid, and in some cases refuse, to properly and fully inspect and investigate your claim. Stay vigilant with these adjusters! Make sure that they inspect the full extent of the property, including its rooms, foundation, interior and exterior walls, roof, attic or basement, furniture, cabinets, and appliances. Also ensure that the insurance adjuster fully documents and photographs all of your property damage, which should also include any personal and business contents on site.
During the inspection process, you must make a concerted effort to avoid any statements regarding the cause or extent of the property damage. You are not there to provide opinions or thoughts on coverage or to give them an estimate of your damages. It is the adjuster’s job to properly evaluate the damages to reach coverage conclusions and value your claim. In fact, an attempt to provide the adjuster with your thoughts and opinions is unlikely to help your claim but, instead, may result in a reduction or elimination of your claim payment.
Step 3: The Insurer’s Decision
The insurance company will contact you with their post-investigation decision. The decision usually includes a combination of the below:
- Denial of all or part your claim based on the policy’s coverage provisions or an exclusion;
- Denial of all or part of your claim based on issues with the proof or calculation of your losses;
- Acceptance of coverage for all or part of your claim with an amount they have agreed to pay; and
- Requests for further information needed to accept or deny coverage.
Some insurance companies will offer their decision by phone, which is likely being recorded. Do not commit to anything by phone. Instead, listen to the representative’s decision and ask that they put the decision in writing (whether it be an email or letter). It is important that you also request a copy of their inspection report, including their valuation of the property damage. We recommend that you withhold any response to the insurance company’s decision until you receive these documents.
If the insurance company refuses to provide a written decision or a copy of the inspection report, we strongly suggest that you consider the retention of an attorney to assist with your claim.
Upon receipt of the insurance company’s written decision and the copy of the inspection report, you should consider whether the decision, requests, and report are fair and reasonable. You are not obligated to accept their decision! If anything about the insurance company’s decision makes you uncomfortable or leaves you with the feeling that you are not being treated properly, we suggest that you reach out to a public adjuster or attorney. Remember, insurance companies are “for profit” businesses and, in the wake of a catastrophic hurricane, they will be looking to reduce claim payments whenever possible!
Also, in most claims in which full policy limits are not offered, property owners should strongly consider the retention of a Louisiana-licensed and based public adjuster or attorney to review the insurance company’s decision, report, and actions to date.
Step 4: Loss Payment
Louisiana law places certain duties on insurance companies during the handling of property damage claims (to be addressed in depth in our next article). If the insurance company accepts coverage for all or part of your property damage claim, and you have established the value of your claim, they must tender a payment to you in the equaling that undisputed amount. Accepting this payment does not, and should not, close your claim. In addition, you have the right to dispute the insurance company’s payment, and you should consider the use of Louisiana-based resources to maximize this payment under your property insurance policy.
Having said that, be wary of any language on the check or in the insurance company’s letter/email referencing “settlement” or “resolution” of the property damage claim. This could be an attempt by the insurance company to close your claim before your claim is fully paid.
Finally, if the payment is accompanied by any form of release documents, it is worth your time and expense to consider the retention of an attorney to review the documents. You want to be sure that you are not waiving your rights.
Mansfield Melancon Attorneys can Help: Call Today!
If you have any questions about your insurance claim, contact the Louisiana insurance attorneys at Mansfield, Melancon, Cranmer & Dick LLC. We have proven experience with many types of Insurance claims and have helped many Louisiana citizens receive the compensation to which they were entitled. If you found our “4 steps of Hurricane Laura claims” blog post helpful then contact us by phone by calling one of our offices: New Orleans at (504) 500-1108, Baton Rouge at (225) 612-0800, or Lafayette at (337) 409-0003. You can also request a consultation by using our “Contact Us” page.