10 Tips for Homeowner’s Insurance Claims

Photograph of a Republic Fire Insurance Co. certificate.

You are a homeowner who has suffered a loss — for example, a break in, a robbery, storm damage, or a fire – and thankfully, you have insurance. What should you do? 

Here are 10 things to consider.

  1. First, and perhaps most importantly, decide whether it makes sense to file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company.  If your loss is less than $5,000 – $10,000, you may be better off not filing a claim. Why? Because the result of filing a claim is likely to be (1) a large increase in your premium, or (2) cancellation of your policy, resulting in you having to find insurance elsewhere, also at a higher premium.  Before you file a claim, contact your agent and discuss the amount of the loss and what is likely to happen if you file a claim.
  2. If you decide to file, report the claim as soon as possible. Many companies have a toll-free number for claims.  Call as soon as you can, and provide the information requested.
  3. Get the claim number and the contact information for the adjuster. Each claim is assigned a specific number, as well as an “adjuster” who is responsible for handling the claim. Include the claim number on all communications with the insurance company. Get the adjuster’s contact information — name, mailing address, phone numbers, and email address.
  4. Stay in contact with your adjuster. Adjusters have hundreds (or thousands) or files. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.  Have the adjuster email any required forms to you. Complete them and email them back promptly.  Follow up and ask if there is anything else needed, what the next steps are, etc. Be polite and courteous, and always keep in mind that the adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you.
  5. Keep notes of dates, times and contents of all telephone calls or meetings with the adjuster or any other insurance company representatives. If litigation becomes necessary, these may be very helpful.
  6. Document and photograph/videotape all the damages/losses. If your home has been damaged, take photographs of all the damage, and have qualified contractors provide written estimates for the replace or repair costs. If items have been stolen, compile receipts for those items, even if you have to go back to the store to get a copy of a receipt.
  7. Prevent additional damage. Make any temporary repairs that are necessary to prevent further damage, taking photographs or videos to show what the areas looked like in their damaged condition. Email the photos to the adjuster and let him or her know that temporary repairs are necessary to prevent further damage.
  8. If your house in uninhabitable, arrange for a temporary residence. Most policies cover not only additional residence expenses, but also food, transportation and other costs, or at least some portion of these costs.
  9. Make a list of stolen or damaged items. Include brand names and model numbers if possible (this is where the receipts will come in handy). If property was destroyed and you cannot get receipts or records, do the best you can from your memory, trying to recall when each item was bought, where, and the price.
  10. Do not sign a release unless you are satisfied with the payment(s). If you have any questions at all, contact an attorney. Once you sign a release, the insurance company has no further liability, and you will be barred from bringing a lawsuit. If you are not satisfied with the way your claim has been handled, in addition to contacting an attorney, you may contact the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner’s Office (919-807-6750) or the National Insurance Helpline (800-942-4292). 

Image by Republic Fire Insurance Co., Public Domain. First Published before 1923 in the US. Image has not been modified.

About the Author

Alan M. Ruley

Alan Ruley is a seasoned civil trial and appellate lawyer. He represents clients in a wide variety of disputes in federal and state court, focusing primarily on business litigation, intellectual property, insurance, banking and employment.
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