Sitting in my office in Tarboro talking to my law partner in our other office in Raleigh it made me think that with a hurricane and an earthquake in one week the old saying that if you don’t like the North Carolina weather, wait a few minutes, it will change. After every major disaster in North Carolina, whether hurricane, fire, flood or ice storm my firm’s phones are flooded with people trying to make sure they are doing the right thing. The people who are calling are not trying to get over on anyone, they just want to find out whether they should call their insurance company, whether they have a claim and what they should do while waiting to hear from their insurance company and how to make sure they are following all the rules. In the great majority of disaster type claims, you are dealing with homeowners, renters or umbrella coverage. Typically if it is a property damage claim on your own property, homeowners coverage is the insurance coverage upon which you will make a claim. An exception here in Eastern North Carolina is if the damage was from rising water, then often a claim must be made on your flood insurance. If you live anywhere near water, flood insurance is a must. Renters coverage is just that; coverage for your belongings in a house or apartment that you rent from someone else. Typically, it is very inexpensive coverage and is a must for any renter. Umbrella coverage is a type of universal liability coverage above and beyond any homeowners coverage purchased. Liability coverage is coverage in case an action on your part causes damage to another. It is used to protect your assets and can be combined with your liability coverage under your homeowners coverage. Again, typically a one million dollar umbrella policy is very inexpensive. Homeowners insurance is a contract. Please don’t be one of those people who has never read their homeowners policy until they call after a disaster to discover what they have their property insured for and what they did not have insured at all. Certain items are typically not covered on your homeowners, for example, most of the time the amount of jewelry or other incidentals you can be reimbursed for having destroyed by a limb through your house is very low. Make sure you do a specific rider on your policy for any high valued jewelry. Guns are in the same position. More than once a client has been upset that his wonderful gun collection cannot be recovered as the insurance company didn’t have them on a rider and there was no proof of serial number or even a picture. Also know your deducible. Before making a $500 claim with a $1,000.00 deductible, make sure you think it through. The first thing we always tell our clients to do is take pictures! A lot of pictures! Video is also a great idea if at all possible before you begin the clean up and again during. The biggest mistake you can make is to not document the problem in your hurry to get cleaned up. Also, if further damage is created in a reasonable attempt to minimize your damage, it is often covered. After taking your pictures you can safely begin to clean up your damage. Safety is the key. If you get hurt cleaning up your property there is no one to blame or recover from but yourself. Take your time and be very careful. After looking at your policy before the disaster and taking pictures of the results, you should call and report your damage immediately. The earlier you report the damage the quicker an adjuster can come take a look and it reduces the amount of additional damage you may have to fix. You also have a duty to mitigate or reduce your own damage and delay may result in a finding you have failed to mitigate your damages. Finally, be honest in your dealings with the insurance company. Nothing throws up red flags (and denied claims) like exaggeration of the claim. Don’t just throw in something damaged in the past and expect it to be paid. Remember, this is first party insurance and your insurance company has a duty to deal with you in good faith, so give them the same benefit. Bad faith is a type of claim that can be brought on your behalf against your insurance company if they fail to meet their obligations to you. Again, documentation, especially in writing with pictures, is the best way to protect yourself. The North Carolina Department of Insurance, which regulates insurance companies can also advise how to make claims against unfair insurance practices; however, our firm has handled many bad faith claims. If you have any questions, feel free to give our office a call. 855-975-2625
"UPDATE: To protect your safety during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, we offer video conferencing, as well as telephone conferences, in place of face-to-face meetings. Please contact our office today to set up a remote consultation."