January 05, 2011

State insurance department: act quickly to protect your property after severe storms

Jefferson City, Mo. - As residents in central and eastern Missouri recover from New Year's Eve tornadoes, the Missouri Department of Insurance is offering advice for consumers dealing with their insurance companies and property damage. Director John M. Huff says if you haven't already contacted your insurance agent or company, that should be step one. Other tips offered by Huff:

  • Keep a record of the time, date, topic and name of the person you talk to every time you call your agent or company.
  • If you can't live in your house, your homeowners policy may pay for your expenses if you need to live somewhere else while repairs are made. That may include food expenses, as well as lodging. Ask your insurance agent about your coverage.
  • Make temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage. For example, put a tarp over damaged sections of roof. Your homeowners policy may not cover further damage you could have prevented.
  • If your pipes have burst, shut off the water supply to those pipes and to the entire house if necessary.
  • Survey the damage and take pictures or shoot video, if possible.
  • Make a list of all your property that was destroyed or damaged.Note the approximate date, price and place of purchase and attach any sales receipt you may have. Your insurance company may ask for this information.
  • Your insurance company will send an adjuster to inspect your damage and offer a certain amount of money for your claim. Make sure the adjuster has identification - if necessary, check with your insurance company to verify the adjuster is authorized to represent the company. Remember that adjustors are paid by insurers, so the adjuster should not ask you for any money or to sign a contract.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who offers to get you more money for your insurance claim. A public adjuster - required to be licensed by the Department of Insurance - may offer to help you get more money from your insurer. Public adjusters will require part of your claim settlement as payment for their services. You are not required to hire a public adjuster to file a claim. In general, consider hiring a public adjuster only after your insurer makes a settlement offer and when you anticipate any settlement increase obtained by the public adjuster will exceed the extra cost.
  • Be suspicious of repair contractors who come door to door. Don't pay up front for repair services. Work with companies known to you or recommended by someone you trust. Check for complaints against repair contractors by calling the Attorney General's Office at 800-392-8222 or visit ago.mo.gov.

Huff encourages consumers to make a list of their personal property to make filing insurance claims easier. The department offers a free home inventory checklist, available online for download or by calling the department.

Consumers with questions or who believe their claim has not been handled correctly can call the Insurance Consumer Hotline at 1-800-726-7390 or file a complaint at insurance.mo.gov.