People Filing Hurricane Ike Insurance Claims Need to Protect ThemselvesSep 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Hurricane Ike victims in Texas are reportedly facing long waits for meetings with insurance adjusters. Adjusters are apparently being hindered by the shear number of claims, areas that are still inaccessible and properties with damage so extensive that they require multiple inspections. Many Hurricane Ike policy holders are understandably anxious to have their insurance claims settled so that they can begin rebuilding their lives. But it is important that anyone with a Hurricane Ike insurance claim understand their rights and responsibilities so that in addition to having their claim paid quickly, it is also paid fairly.
According to Texas law, insurance companies usually have 15 days to start investigating a claim once a policyholder lets them know about it. But when a natural disaster strikes, the state's insurance department can extend that deadline by 30 days. That was done on Wednesday. Insurers can take as long as they need to investigate claims, such as sending adjusters and inspectors out to examine damages and collecting reports. Once an investigation is complete, insurance companies have 30 days to decide whether to pay a claim from a natural disaster, compared to 15 days in a non-disaster situation. If the claim is accepted, the company has five days to make the payment. If an insurance company doesn't meet these deadlines, the state can impose fines.
There are some things policyholders can and should do to make sure their insurance company treats their claim fairly, and in a timely manner. It is a good idea to follow up an initial call with an insurance agent with written notice of a claim. One Texas attorney told the Houston Chronicle that such written notice "doesn't have to be anything fancy, just, 'I got hit by a hurricane, so come look at my house and pay me, please.'"
Consumers should also document the entire process. If their insurer unfairly denies all or part of their claim, such documentation will come in handy when they consult an attorney. This would include taking pictures of the damage, saving pictures and samples of anything they have to throw out, documenting every conversation they have with their company and adjuster, and keeping copies of everything they hand to an adjuster or the insurance company. Policyholders also have a right to receive - and should ask for - any third-party reports, such as engineering reports, the homeowner or insurance company orders.
Finally, while its understandable that Hurricane Ike homeowners will want to get their damage claims settled quickly, they should not rush the process. Above all, a policyholder should never sign final proof of losses until they are sure they've found all the damage. If presented with such a document, a consumer with any doubts should let their insurance company know. Once a final proof of loss is signed, it is all but impossible to reopen a claim if more damage is found later.