AFTER THE STORM: Tips for dealing with damage to homes and vehicles - The Monitor: Local News

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AFTER THE STORM: Tips for dealing with damage to homes and vehicles

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Posted: Friday, March 30, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:32 pm, Fri Jun 14, 2013.

Call your insurance agent or company promptly to report property damage. Keep a record of all contacts you have with your company. Be prepared to answer questions about the extent and severity of the damage. Follow the call immediately with a written claim to protect your rights under Texas’ prompt-payment law.

Make a list of your damaged property. Photograph or videotape the damage if possible. Don’t throw away damaged items until your insurance adjuster has seen them.

Ask your agent about additional living expenses (ALE). This coverage reimburses you for any necessary and reasonable increase in food or lodging expenses if you have to move while your home is being repaired.

Make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect your home and property from further damage. Cover broken windows and holes to keep rain out. Do not make permanent repairs before a claims adjuster inspects the damage. Keep a record of your repair expenses and save all receipts.

Try to be present when the adjuster inspects your damage. You may also have your contractor present at the inspection or have the contractor review the adjuster’s report before settling the claim. Don’t accept an unfair settlement.

If you hire a public insurance adjuster, make sure the public adjuster is licensed by TDI. Public insurance adjusters work independently and charge a fee for their services. If you hire a public adjuster, keep in mind that you may have less money to repair or replace your damaged property. Public insurance adjusters must disclose their fees in the written contract with you. Make sure the public adjuster is licensed by TDI by calling TDI’s Consumer Help Line at 463-6515 or using the “Agent Search” feature on our website at www.tdi.state.tx.us.

Find a reputable contractor to make repairs. Verify the contractor’s references, have a written contract before repairs begin, and pay only as the contractor completes the repairs. 

Call the Consumer Help Line if you need general insurance information, have a complaint about your insurance company, or can’t locate your agent or company.

AUTOMOBILE FAQs

Q. My car was damaged by hail. Is it covered?

A. If you have “other than collision” coverage, also called “comprehensive” coverage, on your auto policy, the damage will be covered. If you only have liability coverage, hail and other types of damage won’t be covered. Read the first page of your policy – called the “declaration page” – to learn what type of coverage you have. If you don’t have a copy of your policy, call your agent or company.

Q. My car was damaged pretty badly. How do I determine if my car should be totaled?

A. Whether your car will be totaled is determined on a case-by-case basis like any other loss. Normally, when the cost of repair plus the salvage value equals or exceeds the actual cash value of the vehicle prior to the loss, it will be considered a total loss.

Q. My insurance company totaled my car. The company is going to pay the Blue Book value but I still owe substantially more than that. Doesn’t the company have to pay what I owe on the auto?

A. No. The company is only obligated to pay the current market value of your vehicle. You can request that the adjuster explain to you how the value was derived to ensure that all of the vehicle’s equipment, features, upgrades and recent work was considered in determining the value. To cover the difference between the market value of your vehicle and what you actually owe, you would need an endorsement or separate policy, to provide Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP) coverage.

Q. What will happen to the vehicle’s title if my car is totaled?

A. If you own the vehicle outright, you will have to sign the title over to the insurance company. In exchange, the company will give you a check for the market value of the vehicle. If you still owe on a car loan, the insurance company will coordinate with you and your lender to have the title signed over to the company. In most cases, the insurance company will contact the lender to find out how much you owe on the loan. If the insurance company determines that the market value of the vehicle is $10,000 and the amount owed the lender is $8,000, the insurance company will issue a check for $8,000 to the lender to release the lien on the car. The insurance company will then issue a $2,000 check to you to obtain your signature on the title.

Q. Since my car was damaged, I had to rent a vehicle. Does my auto policy cover the cost of renting a car?

A. Your policy will provide coverage for renting another vehicle only if you have an endorsement on your policy for Rental Reimbursement Coverage. If you have this coverage, the insurance company will pay up to the limit shown on the endorsement for the reasonable amount of time it takes to repair or replace your vehicle.

Q. What if I do not agree with the settlement offered by the insurance company?

A. Ask the adjuster to explain how the settlement amount was derived. If you still disagree, the Personal Auto Policy allows you to demand an appraisal of the loss. There is a specific provision in the policy for appraisal that lists the responsibility of both parties.

Q. I got a check from the insurance company, but I’m not satisfied with the amount. I plan to file a complaint to request that the company pay more on my claim. Should I cash the check? If I cash the check, does it mean that I accept their decision and amount of payment?

A. Be careful about endorsing a check before discussing your concerns with the company. Call the adjuster or company first before cashing the check. Some companies have a release from further liability disclaimer printed on the back of the check.

Q. I still owe money on my car and the insurance company made the claim check out to me and the lender. Can I ask the company to issue the check just to me? 

A. The loss payee endorsement requires the insurance company to pay to the insured and the loss payee as their interest may appear. Therefore, you and your lender may both be named on the check. You and your lender will agree on the release of funds.

Q. What is my recourse if a check made payable jointly to me and the lender is sent directly to the lender and cashed without my knowledge or endorsement on the check?

A. That is a legal question that TDI cannot answer. However, your first step would be to contact the insurance company and your lender (lien holder). You can also contact the Texas Department of Banking at 1-877-276-5554 or visit its website at www.banking.state.tx.us.

HOMEOWNER FAQs

Q. Wind caused my tree to fall on my house, which caused damage to my roof. Does my homeowners policy cover the damage to my house and pay for the removal of the tree?

A. If your policy provides coverage for wind, the roof damage caused by the tree is covered. Homeowners policies will not pay for the tree itself; however, most policies pay to remove a tree if a covered peril caused it to fall on and damage covered property. Some policies limit the coverage for removal to $500 per tree and $1,000 per loss. Contact your insurance company or agent regarding coverage.

Q. Some trees blew down in my yard during a storm but didn’t cause property damage. Will my homeowners insurance policy pay for the loss to and removal of the trees?

A. No. Wind is not a covered peril for trees, shrubs, plants and lawns. Removal of the trees is not covered either since they did not fall on or damage covered property.

Q. My fence blew down. Will my homeowners insurance cover loss of my fence?

A. If your policy provides coverage for wind, you may have coverage for the fence. Coverage for fences is usually limited to actual cash value which is the replacement cost for the damaged property less depreciation. Some policies do not provide any coverage for fences damaged by wind. You should check your policy and/or contact your agent regarding coverage.

Q. My neighbor’s tree fell on my house and damaged my roof. Will my neighbor’s homeowners policy pay for the damage to my home and remove the tree?

A. Probably not. Your neighbor is not legally liable for an act of nature. However, if the tree was dead, your neighbor may be responsible for the damage to your home. If your neighbor’s policy does not pay for your damage, you can make a claim under your policy if the peril that caused the tree to fall is a covered peril in your policy. You should contact your agent and/or company regarding the damage.

Q. The food in my refrigerator spoiled because of loss of power in my area. Will my homeowners policy pay for the loss?

A. Most homeowners policies will provide up to $500 for spoilage of refrigerated or frozen food caused by an off premises power failure, if the power failure is a direct result from peril covered in your policy. If the power failure is a result of physical damage to the dwelling or any equipment contained in the dwelling and is caused by a peril covered in your policy coverage is not limited to $500. Other policies may not provide the $500 for a loss resulting from a power failure off premises unless added by an endorsement.

Q. Can I make repairs to my property immediately?

A. Make temporary repairs if necessary to protect your property from further damage. Do NOT make permanent repairs until an adjuster has inspected the damage. Your policy covers the cost of necessary temporary repairs, so save your receipts for materials and labor. It’s a good idea to take pictures of the damage before making temporary repairs.

Q. What do I do if my home is uninhabitable?

A. If you can’t remain in your home because of loss from "a covered peril," your homeowners or renters policy will pay for staying in a hotel, motel or other temporary shelter. However, payments are limited based on policy provisions. If the damage does force you to move, be sure to tell your insurer where you are and how to reach you by phone. Also, leave a note at your damaged residence telling the insurance adjuster how to find you.

Q. Under a homeowners policy, who determines the cause of damage and who pays for an expert if one is needed?

A. The insurance company usually determines the cause of damage as its adjusters investigate and evaluate the loss. If an expert is required to determine the cause of the loss, the cost is usually borne by the insurance company, but in some cases may be paid by the insured.

Q. Do I have to hire a public insurance adjuster to file and help in the settlement of my auto or homeowner's insurance claim?

A. No. Hiring a public insurance adjuster to assist you in filing a property insurance claim is optional. Public insurance adjusters charge fees to help negotiate claim settlements with insurance companies. Be aware that the public insurance adjuster fee is normally a percentage of the claim settlement and therefore is paid out of settlement monies received from an insurer.

Q. Are public insurance adjusters required to be licensed by the Texas Department of Insurance?

A. Yes, a person may not act as a public insurance adjuster in this state or hold himself or herself out to be a public insurance adjuster in this state, unless the person holds a license or certificate issued by the commissioner. You may verify the license status of a public insurance adjuster at http://www.texas.gov/NASApp/tdi/TdiARManager.

Q. How does replacement cost coverage work on policy types such as homeowners, dwelling, and mobile home?

A. Replacement value is not available on the mobile owners policy. An agreed value is available, however. Replacement cost coverage replaces/repairs your damaged dwelling or personal property with new material and/or items of like kind and quality. In most cases, you should only be responsible for paying the deductible. Some homeowners and dwelling policies automatically include replacement cost coverage for the dwelling; others may be endorsed for an additional premium; and some may only provide actual cash value. You should check with your agent or company to see if they offer replacement cost coverage on all policy types.

Q. I got a check from the insurance company, but I’m not satisfied with the amount. I plan to file a complaint to request that the company pay more on my claim. Should I cash the check? If I cash the check, does it mean that I accept their decision and amount of payment?

A. Be careful about endorsing a check before discussing your concerns with the company. Call the adjuster or company first before cashing the check. Some companies have a release from further liability disclaimer printed on the back of the check. The check may be a partial payment to initiate repairs. Additional funds may be released when you submit proof that repairs have been completed.

MOBILE HOME OWNER FAQs

Q. Are there different types of policies that provide coverage for mobile homes?

A. Yes, mobile homes may be written on a various types of policies, including a homeowners policy. The majority of mobile homes are currently written on a mobilowners policy. You should check with your agent or company to see what type of policy you have.

Q. Wind caused my tree to fall on my mobile home and damaged my roof. Does my mobilowners policy cover the damages to my home and would the company pay to remove the tree from my property?

A. If your policy provides coverage for windstorm it will pay for the damage to your roof. The tree itself will not be covered. Most mobilowners policies provide a limited amount of debris removal coverage. Some companies may provide an option to increase coverage. You should contact your agent or company regarding debris removal coverage.

Q. Does my mobilowners policy provide Additional Living Expense?

A. Most mobilowners policies provide some additional living expense reimbursement in the event the mobile home is damaged or destroyed from a peril or perils insured against by the policy and the mobile home is thereby rendered uninhabitable. Some companies may provide an option to increase this coverage. It is important that you contact your agent and/or company regarding your additional living expense coverage.

CONTACT THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE

If you need information, have a complaint or can’t locate your agent or company, call the toll-free TDI Consumer Help Line

1-800-252-3439

1-800-852-5246 (special disaster line)

Prevent Insurance Fraud   

A disaster can lure crooked building contractors and public insurance adjusters. They'll try to exploit the confusion and emergency conditions and swindle you and your insurance company. For more information, please see TDI's Disaster-Related Fraud Consumer Alert.

Insurance Fraud Toll-Free Hotline - 1-888-327-8818

Online Fraud Reporting

Secure Transmission, Fast, Comprehensive, Easy Data Entry

Online Fraud Reporting for Insurance Companies

Online Fraud Reporting for Consumers

FILE AN INSURANCE COMPLAINT

Read about TDI's consumer complaints process in the Helping You With Your Insurance Complaint publication. You may also e-mail, mail, or fax your complaint along with copies of your supporting documents to

Texas Department of Insurance

Consumer Protection Program (MC 111-1A)

P.O. Box 149091

Austin, TX 78714-9091

Fax: 512-475-1771

E-mail: ConsumerProtection@tdi.state.tx.us

Insurance Complaint Forms

English Online Form

En Español En linea Forma

For more information contact:

ConsumerProtection@tdi.state.tx.us 

____

Source: Texas Department of Insurance (http://www.tdi.texas.gov/home/cpmmay2008storms.html)

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