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How To Make the Most of a Sandy-Related Claim

by Charles Passy, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 3, 2012

Is there a way to get your Sandy-related insurance-claim fast-tracked for approval?

Stories of delays in the processing of storm-related insurance claims have become all too familiar. In the case of Hurricane Wilma, which struck Florida in 2005, more than 2,000 homeowners were still waiting for their money nearly four years after the disaster.

Insurance-industry experts say a degree of waiting is inevitable after a storm of Sandy’s size and scope, which resulted in damage that has been estimated at anywhere from $7 billion to $50 billion. In Sandy’s case, the claims could be especially time-consuming to process because it won’t always be clear if the storm damage is wind or flood-related---and insurers might try to pit one type against another to limit their payouts, says Paul Berger, managing attorney for the Hurricane Law Group, a Coconut Creek, Florida, firm that specializes in storm-related insurance issues.

But there are certain steps policyholders can take now to ensure they aren’t at the end of the claim line, experts say.

For starters, they need to hurry up and get their claims in. Experts say that many homeowners hesitate because they aren’t really sure if they have enough damage to merit a claim---or at least a claim that is more than the value of the policy’s deductible. But that is for the insurer---or an outside adjuster—to determine. Waiting simply puts the homeowner further down a list that grows with each passing day or even hour.

“The quicker you begin the process, the quicker (the claim) is going into the hands of the person who’s going to pay you,” says John Kinney, a senior vice president at the Hartford.

Making the call is one thing; providing the right information is another. The latter is key to speeding up a claim, experts say. If a homeowner can provide details of the damage, both to their property and possessions, he will essentially be making the adjuster’s job easier.

Before-and-after photographs, purchase records and contractor estimates for repairs are especially valuable. It isn’t that the adjuster will take everything at face value, but it gives him a reasonable starting point.

Making life easier for the adjuster is particularly important when it comes to disaster claims, experts say, since the adjusters are likely to be contracted ones, often brought in from another states to meet the sudden demand in the area. That means they might not be as familiar with local pricing or types of construction.

Homeowners also might consider hiring their own “public” adjusters to work with the one the insurance company contracts, which could help homeowners make their case in a more complete and expedited fashion. Such a move will cost the homeowner, since public adjusters are usually paid a portion of the settlement.

Mr. Berger, who does adjustment work as well, advises going this route only in cases in which a homeowner is looking at damages of at least $25,000.

A homeowner might be able to move up in line by making the insurer aware of any noteworthy or unusual issues. For example, if a family with a special-needs child is forced to live in temporary housing while awaiting repairs on a storm-damaged home, it could have a negative effect on the child’s care.

While insurance companies aren’t necessarily required to put that family’s claim on the front burner, they might do so simply out of a sense of obligation and respect.

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