PhotoWith Hurricane Matthew roaring up the Florida coast and threatening parts of Georgia and South Carolina, now might be a good time to review what happens when it's over.

Property owners affected by the storm will likely be calling their insurance agents to start the claims process.

Once the storm has passed and it is safe to inspect your property, photograph any damage, then contact your insurance provider right away. Keep in mind many of your neighbors will be doing the same, so get in line as soon as possible.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is offering some advice for making the process go smoothly. It starts with writing down your claim number and having it handy each time you have contact with the insurance company. It makes its job easier and will probably mean you will get better service.

Most homeowner's policies cover “loss of use,” so if your kitchen isn't usable, make sure to keep receipts for meals at restaurants and, if the home isn't habitable, hotel receipts.

Who's making the decisions?

CFA says there is an important distinction between claims adjusters employed by the insurance company and those who are independent contractors, so when the claims adjuster arrives, find out which he or she is. An independent contractor may not be authorized to make claims decisions. Find out who is making the decision and make sure you have a way to communicate with that person.

Insurance companies usually have contractors they use for repairs and will recommend using them for estimates. CFA says you may want to obtain an estimate from that contractor but you are under no obligation to use it for the repairs.

CFA estimates there could be as many as 100,000 claims for wind damage by homeowners but far fewer federal flood insurance claims. Damage payments could exceed $7.5 billion.

Flood damage not covered

Remember that your homeowner's insurance will cover most damage caused by wind but not from flooding. And adjusters will probably be under pressure to attribute as much of the damage to flooding as possible. The result could be some significant out-of-pocket expense.

"Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations," said J. Robert Hunter, Director of Insurance for CFA and former Federal Insurance Administrator and Texas Insurance Commissioner. “This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read.”

Hunter says if recent hurricanes are any indication, consumers will have to remain vigilant with their insurance companies, to make sure they receive a full and fair settlement.

What if the insurance company denies your claim? CFA says consumers should ask the company representative to identify the specific language in the policy that served as the basis for the denial.


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