What to Do if You Have a Homeowner’s Insurance Claim

April 20, 2020

Many different events can lead to a homeowner’s insurance claim.  Let’s say that you’ve suffered through a hailstorm that damages your siding and shingles.  Or you’ve had a water pipe burst that damages your hardwood floors.  This alone is incredibly stressful but having to deal with your homeowner’s insurance company can be equally stressful.  Insurance companies love to collect your insurance premiums.  However, they generally hate conducting a full and fair investigation or paying full value for your claim.  When that happens, you have to be prepared to fight to get what you’re owed under your policy.

Initial Steps

As soon as you can, report the claim to your insurer.  If you don’t have your insurance policy or declarations page, ask your insurer to send you a copy right away.  The policy is what tells you what your rights are and what you are owed.  If you don’t know what your rights are under your insurance contract, you cannot fight for them.

Your next step after a loss is to find a copy of your policy and read it.  Read your insurance policy more than once to understand what perils or property damage is covered, and what might be excluded.  It may appear that you have coverage under the Coverage Section of the policy, but when you continue to read the policy, you might find that the coverage is taken away by the Exclusions Section.  So you must read the entire policy to understand what might or might not be covered.

Next, insist that your insurance company send an adjuster to your home to inspect the damage.  Insurance companies are required to conduct full and fair investigations of its insureds’ claims before they make settlement offers or deny coverage.  If the insurance company does not conduct a full and fair investigation in your case, speak with an attorney who practices in insurance coverage issues or insurance bad faith.  You may be entitled to not only the coverage but also attorney’s fees, damages for annoyance and inconvenience, and other damages.

You should always get the insurance company’s coverage position in writing.  This is true whether the insurer intends to deny you coverage or limit what it  will pay you for what you lost.  If the coverage denial/limitation letter is not clear, write the insurance company and explain this, and request clarification in simple terms.  You are not in the insurance business and the insurance company owes you an explanation that is understandable. Under the West Virginia Insurance Regulations, insurance companies are required to provide you a response to any such inquiries within 15 working days of receiving your letter or email.

Documenting and Proving your Losses

Insurance companies have a built-in bias to pay you as little as possible.  As a result, the following rules will help you ensure that the process is as fair to you as possible:

  1. Document what your property was like before the loss.  Be very specific and note how many rooms were damaged, what the finishes were in the rooms, and how old the flooring or carpeting was.  Do not overstate your claim but make sure that the insurer has what it needs to pay you fair value for your losses.
  2. Document what the damage is and what it will cost to restore the home to pre-loss condition. Try to come up with a “scope of loss” that you and the insurance company can agree on. Often adjusters do a poor job of this and so you must be vigilant that items are not left off of the insurance company’s “scope of loss” or estimate.
  3. Get independent estimates from licensed, reputable contractors that you would hire to repair your home. More than one is better, and if you have to pay for the estimate, it’s worth it. It will help you in your negotiation with your insurer.
  4. Negotiate a settlement amount with the insurance company that covers the costs of repairing and replacing everything to pre-loss condition. If the insurer won’t negotiate fairly, seek a second opinion from an insurance bad faith law firm, such as Manchin Ferretti.  You may be entitled to not only the full amount of the repairs on your home but additional damages for attorney’s fees, damages for annoyance and inconvenience and, in some cases, punitive damages.
  5. As for personal contents that may have been damaged, this falls under another section of your insurance policy. The first step in your  personal contents claim is to document, list, and place a value on every damaged item.  Produce available receipts, photographs and other evidence to support the value. In many cases, you won’t have receipts;  however, you can find similar items online and come up with the replacement cost this way.  Many policies allow for replacement cost, which means that after the insurer pays the actual cash value and you replace the item, you can present the receipt to your insurer who will then pay you the difference.

Consult an attorney

Get a second opinion from a lawyer who understands insurance policies and insurance bad faith practices. If your insurer wrongfully denied  you coverage, or made you a low-ball settlement offer, you can sue for attorney’s fees, damages for annoyance and inconvenience, and other damages on top of the coverage you are owed. At Manchin Ferretti, we will evaluate your case for free and set you on the right path.

If you think that you’ve been the victim of insurance bad faith, contact an attorney right away.  In West Virginia, you only have one (1) year to file your insurance bad faith claim from the start of the bad faith misconduct.  If you do not file on time, you will lose your right to sue for bad faith damages in addition to the coverage owed under the policy.

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