Hurricane Irma damage? Tips for filing an insurance claim

Hurricane Irma is finally gone. You stepped outside Monday morning, relieved to be rid of the howling winds, delighted to see the sun. You cleared the fallen branches, surveyed the damage around your home, and discovered you’re going to have to file an insurance claim to help cover repairs.

You’re not alone.

Irma left a path of destruction all over Florida, and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) estimates that the storm could result in 450,000 claims for insurance payments — 300,000 for wind damage and 150,000 for federal flood insurance. Insurance payments for wind damage could exceed Hurricane Andrew’s insurance payments of $25 billion and FEMA-insured flood claims could reach $15 billion.

So, how do you get the process started?

Whom should you call first? How do you make sure you get all you are entitled to from your insurance company? How do you avoid being the victim of a scam? What if you don’t have flood or wind insurance?

Here are some tips compiled from the CFA and other consumer groups:

1. Report your claim as soon as possible as insurance companies generally handle them first come, first serve. This is particularly important in Hurricane Irma because claims adjusters are already swamped with claims from Hurricane Harvey. Be patient, but persistent.

2. After you file the claim, be sure to write down your claim number and keep it handy for easy reference. This will help the insurance claims department find your case more easily in subsequent phone calls and e-mails. Take notes documenting every contact with your insurer, noting the person with whom you spoke.

3. Keep receipts for any expenses related to immediate repairs you had to make to secure your home as well as any living expenses (hotel, evacuation costs, meals) if you could not return to your home in the wake of the storm. In wind claims you should get reimbursed for such additional living expenses. If your claim is limited to flood insurance, additional living expenses are not covered.

4. When the insurance company sends out an adjuster, ask if he/she is an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster (I.A.). If an independent adjuster, ask if they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company and ask for the name of the in-house company adjuster to whom the I.A. will be sending your information.

5. If you don’t have flood insurance, call your home insurer anyway. Some homeowner policies that exclude damage related to flooding, may cover damage from water and wind damage.

6. Damage to your car from downed trees and flooding should be covered by the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance.

7. Floridians or others who traveled during Hurricane Irma or had to cut their trips short to deal with storm damage should reach out to their travel insurance provider if they bought a policy for their trip.

8. Be wary of strangers who come to your door claiming to be insurance adjustors or contractors and beware of Robocalls asking for insurance payments or personal information. If you suspect fraud, call the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services Insurance Consumer Helpline at 877-693-5236

“Unfortunately, hurricanes often attract scam artists seeking to profit off people in times of crisis,’’ said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which spearheads the Consumer Protection Coalition. “Consumers who sustain damage during the storm should call their insurance company first before signing over the rights of their insurance policy to someone else.’’

9. If you have no insurance, check nonprofit groups and (run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to see if you qualify for aid.