FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2011-10-13
When the May tornado swept through Joplin, Missouri, it left a slew of insurance claims in its wake. Home and business owners must now wade through the complicated and frustrating insurance claims process. And for them, the worst may be still to come—already suffering, many people find that insurance companies use natural disasters to mistreat their customers.
The Joplin tornado was initially classified as an F4, and is likely to be upgraded to an F5—the highest rating that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) bestows upon tornados. It was the deadliest single tornado to touch down in the United States since 1953.
The severity of the storm caused equally severe damage, flattening homes and seriously damaging the structures that survived its high-speed winds. The result was a barrage of claims to the state’s major insurance providers. Shortly after the tornado, Governor Jay Nixon signed an order that barred insurance companies from raising the rates or cancelling the policies of the victims of the Joplin tornado for 30 days after the disaster struck.
These types of governmental orders have been necessary because insurance companies have a track record of treating victims of natural disasters unfairly. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, insurers were reluctant to pay anything out to hurricane victims, including temporary living expenses.
There are several things home and business owners can do to advocate for themselves and make the claims process go smoothly. First, it is important to read and understand one’s homeowners insurance policy or commercial property insurance policy on the damaged property before disaster strikes. Understanding the insurance policy on a property is the first step towards a smooth claims process.
Second, it is key to notify an insurance broker immediately after damage has occurred. Take multiple photos to document the damage and make lots of copies and be sure to share them with your agent and the claims adjuster. As you document damage, record an estimate for replacement cost as well as original cost, and be sure to get your own appraisal of high-priced items. Also, keep track of receipts for any expenses incurred after the storm such as lodging, food and other temporary living arrangements.
As the claim progresses, do not be afraid to advocate for yourself or your business and fight for a fair process. If at any time you feel that the insurance company is not being forthright with you, seek the advice of an experienced insurance dispute attorney. In fact, some insurance companies will refuse to take a claim seriously and may lowball you or your business until you hire a lawyer.
Natural disasters may have long-lasting consequences, but a stressful insurance claims process does not need to be one of them. Hiring an experienced insurance dispute attorney can make the claims process more efficient and fair for the victims of natural disasters.