April 22, 2011

Missouri insurance director says consumers with storm damage should act quickly

Time is crucial in restoring property

Jefferson City, Mo. - The Missouri Department of Insurance says if your home or car has been damaged by the recent hail and wind storms, now is the time to get your insurance company involved. Insurance Director John M. Huff is offering tips to help you recover from storm damage and protect against fraud and scams.

Whether it's damage to your car or home, Huff suggests the following:

  • Contact your insurance agent or your insurance company's toll-free claims number as soon as possible. Some insurance companies set up mobile claims units with staff in areas hit hard by storms.
  • Make temporary repairs needed to prevent further damage. For example, a hole in the roof should be covered by a tarp or other material to keep rain out. Same goes for a broken car window. Otherwise, further damage will likely not be covered by insurance. Keep the receipts for materials you buy so you can be reimbursed.
  • Don't make permanent repairs until your insurance company has inspected the damage. If you do, your claim might be denied.
  • Once your claim is processed, get estimates from contractors or auto repair shops known to you or recommended by someone you trust. Be suspicious of solicitors who offer to do repairs for you.
  • If you believe your insurance company has not handled your complaint properly, file a complaint with the Department of Insurance. The department will determine whether your insurance company has followed Missouri law in processing your claim.
  • Don't let contractors inspect your home if you're not watching. Some unscrupulous companies will cause damage to drive up the repair cost, and your insurance company will likely not cover the additional cost.
  • Don't pay the whole repair bill in advance. Pay in full only when the work is completed according to your agreement.

"Dealing with storm damage is stressful for any individual or family," said Huff. "Falling victim to a scam or rip-off adds even further stress, so consumers need to stay vigilant."

Huff also urges consumers, whether they own or rent, to be prepared by completing a home inventory. This list of possessions makes it easier for consumers to file an insurance claim if they have damage to their property and their belongings.

The Department of Insurance offers a free Home Inventory Checklist, either by Web download or in hard copy. As an alternative, consumers can take digital photos or videos of their possessions. Another option is a new app for iPhone users available from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Consumers can file complaints or ask general questions about insurance by calling the Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-726-7390 or online at insurance.mo.gov.