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Friday, August 26, 2011

Bad Insurance and Hurricane Damage

As cataclysmic Category 2 Hurricane Irene aims at the crowded shore areas of the New Jersey and Long Island shores and threatens to invade 212 territory (that is, Manhattan), many of the Northeastern United States readers out there should be mindful of the serious property damage you are about to sustain. Here are some precautions you can take right now.

First, secure your property. This means exclusively concentrating on potential airborne objects outside.

Second, worry about important objects in your attic space or top floor that you need to keep safe. If your roof is compromised by the hurricane or a tornado it spawns, that top floor may get ruined. Using the attic for storage may not be the brightest idea anymore.

Third, worry about those important items in your basement. If your home is floodprone, consider moving these items -- or accepting their loss.

Fourth, look for your homeowners' insurance policy. Locate both the rate sheet (usually a one-page form) and the actual contract that forms the policy. You'll need these if there is any dispute or delay with an insurer on payment or coverage.

Fifth, if time and safety permit, photograph your property. You need "before" pictures in order to demonstrate the extent of the storm damage. An insurer will challenge you on a claim of storm causation. Be prepared.

Once the storm passes and it is safe to venture outside (and watch for fallen wires and glass), take photos of the damage before you clean anything.

You should promptly -- if not immediately -- call your insurer to report damage and pursue a claim. Hiring a lawyer may be an excellent step at this point. A lawyer can speak on your behalf and thereby prevent the insurer from claiming that you make certain statements, called admissions, which it will use (however falsely) to try to deny or delay your claim or convince you to give up.

Remember that the insurer is not your friend. Insurance is a business, for which the profit is the spread between collected premiums and payouts on claims. The insurance industry is not in business to protect you, although that is what they want you to believe. The insurance business is not selling you protection; it is selling you peace of mind. Accordingly, the insurer has every motive to deny, challenge, reduce and delay claims.

(Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer.)



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