Hurricane insuranceSo, let's assume you did the right thing in getting insurance to protect yourself against those times when Mother Nature comes knocking. Your next challenge may be getting the insurance company to pony up the cash instead of trying to deny your claim.

"Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets, because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations," said J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America and former federal insurance administrator and Texas insurance commissioner, in a prepared statement.

"This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read," he said.

"Because so many consumers experienced claims problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Irene to be vigilant with their insurance companies to ensure that that they receive a full and fair settlement," said Hunter.

How to Boost Your Odds of Getting Paid

If you want to increase the likelihood that your insurer writes that check, there is much to do.

Don't dillydally when it comes to reporting your claim: Insurance companies generally handle them first come, first serve, warns Hunter.

Once your claim is reported, get your claim number and write it down. Having that number will make your life -- and the insurance company's -- easier.

Find out a little about the adjuster who will come to your house to assess the damage. You want to know if he is an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster hired by your insurer. The answer matters: If the person is independent, get the name of the actual insurance company adjuster whom the independent adjuster is sending your information to, and find out whether they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company.

Beware of firms that demand up-front fees for services, regardless of the outcome they negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company. Public adjusters work purely on a contingency basis, ensuring that a homeowner does not pay anything unless he or she receives some form of settlement, says David Charles, president of Catastrophic Claims Consultants.

Build Your Evidence

Anticipate the possibility of push-back from the insurance company, and be ready to hit them with documentation. When you file a claim, CFA advises immediately starting a notebook detailing all your contacts with the insurance company. List the date, time and a brief description of what went down. If you need to amplify later, this will give you a leg to stand on. If an adjuster says he or she will not come out, for example, write it down. If an adjuster is a jerk, note that too.

You own a ton of stuff. Make a list of it all. Better still if you took photos of your possessions before the storm, but If you didn't, don't sweat it. "Those snapshots from a party may offer proof of your TV that was destroyed, or the rug that was ruined," says Phillip Sanov, an attorney with The Lanier Law Firm.

Do, however, take photographs of the damage before doing any repair work to your home. Also, make an itemized list of all damage sustained during the storm and its aftermath, advises Frank Keaney, who specializes in homeowners insurance with Amity Insurance. Do all you can to minimize secondary damage: Your homeowner's policy requires that you "mitigate damage," says Kevin Lynch, an assistant professor of insurance at The American College.

You'll want to do some homework by getting a repair estimate from a contractor to help you in talking with the adjuster. Hang on to receipts for any emergency repairs, and costs such as if you have to stay in a hotel. This may be reimbursable under the "additional living expense" portion of your homeowners' policy, says Keaney.

If needed, you can use weather data provided by the Forensic Weather Consultants at, a company of forensic meteorologists who can substantiate hurricane based insurance claims.

It should go without saying, but be honest. Claim inflation invites claim denial, says Michael Huber, partner with the law firm of Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin.

Fight Back

Make sure you follow up on your case: Don't just file the claim, sit back and wait for your payment. Check in regularly with your insurance agent or company on the progress of your claim, says John Egan, managing editor of

If your insurer denies your claim or offers a piddly amount, don't just accept it. CFA advises demanding that the company identify the language in your homeowners' policy that served as the basis for denying your claim or offering so little. The company may be right and you may not know it. Once the company pinpoints the key language in the policy, you should be able to make this determination. Then too, it could be that the company has craftily put new limitations into the policy and didn't make them clear to you. If you feel misled, weigh whether you want to contact an attorney.

For example, says Hunter, the introduction of percentage deductibles (up to 10% of the value of a home), will greatly shift the cost of Hurricane Irene from insurance companies to consumers, as compared to earlier storms. The practice of shifting the cost of previously insured events back to consumers is acceptable, as long as consumers are clearly given the option to select the level of coverage they want with fully informed consent.

Another new way insurers can pull a "gotcha" is by putting a limit on replacement cost payments, which might come into play in the event that a home is totally destroyed. A typical cap is 20% above the face value of the policy. According to CFA, if costs surge because of the spike in demand for materials or labor following a major storm like Hurricane Irene (or if the state does not monitor price gouging sufficiently) this limit might apply. For example, if a home was expected to cost $200,000 to replace and that amount was the limit on the policy, the insurance company would pay no more than 20% more, or $240,000. If the surge in construction costs due to extreme demand caused the price of replacing the home to jump to $300,000, the homeowner would be short $60,000.

Know Your Rights

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Do complain to the powers that be in the insurance company if you feel like a denial was unwarranted or the reimbursement too little. Don't stop there. Complain to your state insurance department: It will make an inquiry with your insurer. See a lawyer if you want to take it a step further.

Once the insurance company tells you the reasons for its action, it legally can't produce new reasons for denying payment or making a low offer at a later time. You have locked them in -- a major advantage for you.

If you review the policy and find that, without stretching your imagination, it seems plausible that you should get the full amount of your claim, you will likely win if you go to court. The CFA notes that courts consistently rule that if an insurance policy is ambiguous, the reasonable expectation of the insured party will prevail since the consumer played no part in writing the language of the insurance policy.

Expect the worst, but hope for the best. Said Hunter, "Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind. Be vigilant though, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged."

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I sustained a direct hit by Irene to my waterfront cottage. I reported my claims immediately to my Flood and Homeowners companies. Travelers and Statefarm. Both have been very very very slow and unhelpful.

2 weeks ago an adjuster came to my house from Travelers and told me I'd be overnighted a check. That they can't write checks. That still hasn't happened. No check received. Still no statement of loss from the adjuster. I cannot make repairs without knowing what I am covered for. Travelers-beware- has told me that they will take up to 60 days to even tell me what the adjuster said- but it's my responsibility to remediate damages immediately. OUT OF MY OWN POCKET. 100%. And then submit bills to see what I am covered for. Travelers adjuster was very unsually unprofessional. Did not have a license number on his card. Did not respond to calls, emails or faxes. a real jerk.

Statefarm, my HOI company, is handling my HOI loss which is contents- and they are the only major insurer in CT charging up to 10% of my homes value as a hurricane deductible. Despite what the article says about checking with the NWS being relevant to determine the storm strength, it is documented and fact that Irene hit my state (CT) as a tropical storm. But Statefarm is still charging that 10% deductible. And apparently, insurance guidelines allow it.

September 12 2011 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's a good list of common mistakes to avoid when filing your Hurricane Irene insurance claim

September 06 2011 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not all insurance companies do you wrong. We lost our house to a fire (100% loss on structure/contents), and the insurance company (CITIZENS) adjustor was at my property the next morning with a copy of my policy and a checkbook. The adjustor was a VERY nice guy and helped me take care of my family, and guide me along the process. We maxed out on the contents/structure of our policy and the check was issued promptly.

August 30 2011 at 12:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Im tired. Maybe we'll talk about your personal property damage and your additional living expense claim another day.

August 29 2011 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Now walk the house with the adjuster and discuss the extent of the damage to your home. In detail. Once you and the adjuster have agreed on what needs to be done, you will be in good shape. (S)he will apply the "scope" to one of the universally accepted estimating systems and you will get a fair deal. It is as simple as that. Believe me, when you take that estimate to your contractor, that contractor will accept the pricing. If he doesnt, get another contractor. Believe you me, if you and the adjuster have agreed on the "scope" of the damage, reputable contractors will accept it. Presuming you have coverage (see the prior entry) and remembering that you are going to have to pay your deductible, your home will be repaired!

August 29 2011 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Worst BAD FAITH INSURANCE COMPANIES TO AVOID AIG/21st Century Insurance/21st Century Auto/Farmers/New Hampshire Indemnity/Zurich/Frontline/First Protective/USAA/Nationwide/Allstate/Progressive/Geico/The Hartford/State Farm and National Grange. Worst insurance companies that refuse to pay, low ball you, slow pay, no pay and force you to sue them to get paid what is owed.

August 29 2011 at 10:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Next, be there when you and your adjuster agreed to meet. Make that adjuster talk to you in detail about "coverage" and have your policy in hand so that you can insist that he point out the issues to you. Coverage comes in four parts: Declarations, insuring agreement, conditions and exclusions. Dont let that adjuster just come and go. If they tell you they can make no commitment about coverage, insist that they call the insurance company, have the adjuster describe the cause and damage to the examiner and insist that the examiner discuss any negative ramifications for you in detail. In fact, with your policy in hand, insist that they point out those ramifications in chapter and verse. After this discussion, you will have a very good idea of the probable outcome of your claim. Do not let the adjuster or examiner hurry you, insist that they explain the coverage thoroughly and insist that they point out the chapter and verse.

August 29 2011 at 10:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So, now you have substantial interior water damage in your home. What to do? I am not a lawyer, so dont consider this legal advice of any kind, but believe me, I am correct. First thing: call a water extraction company to your home and have them begin go extract that water. It is critical. If you do not get that water out as soon as possible, it will destroy your home. Second, call your insurance company and file your claim. Do not leave the line until the insurer tells you the name and phone number of the adjuster who will inspect your damage. Call that adjuster immediately after you identify that individual and insist that they inspect your damage in no later than 48 hours from that moment even if there is a widespread disaster. Seriously, do not accept any delay. You are owed this level of service. Seriously. If your home is seriously damaged, do your best to convince the adjuster to put you up elsewhere until your home is once again habitable. Once you hang up that phone, begin itemizing the damage to your personal property and photograph it extensively. Make sure you have that water extracted. Now you are on your way to recovery, even if "coverage" problems arise because no matter what, you have to have that water extracted and you need to know the extent of the damage to your personal property.

August 29 2011 at 10:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hurricanes are an especially difficult cause of loss. If you own a homeowners policy (HO policy), there is no coverage for flood. Flood, for the purposes of this discussion, means water damage from water that has crossed previously dry ground before damaging the covered building. There is coverage in nearly all policies for wind damage and the ramifications therefrom. So be prepared: the company may well accurately deny part of your claim and pay another part of it . If you own a building in a flood plain, your mortgage holder probably required you to purchase flood insurance which will then pay for the aforementioned flood damage (though the definition of a flood in a flood policy is somewhat different from the definition of flood in an HO policy).

August 29 2011 at 10:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am shocked at the ignorant statements I have read here, even by people in the industry. First, let's get the terms straight. A staff adjuster is an employee of the insurance company. An independent adjuster is an adjuster hired by the company; this adjuster assumes the role of the staff adjuster. Adjusters usually report to Examiners who make coverage and damage decisions, within an authority level. Examiners report to supervisors who report to managers and on up the line. Each level has corresponding "authority" (dollar levels). All of the aforementioned individuals are ultimately paid by the insurer. All of these positions have only one acceptable creed, "Pay the insured what they are owed, not a penny more and not a penny less and do it at the first possible moment." None of the aforementioned have any financial incentive to do anything but provide the best service that money can buy. Insureds who are concerned about whether they will be treated fairly often hire public adjusters. These folks represent them in their claim to the insurance company. The public adjuster is almost universally paid by the insured out of the proceeds of the claim (indemnification). Keep that in mind if you hire a public adjuster.

August 29 2011 at 10:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply