Seems sort of obvious, doesn’t it? But, there are different ways to notify the company that you’ve had a loss. And when you notify the insurance company can make a big difference in how your claim is handled.
The first place to look for information is on your policy. Many policies will have a telephone number listed for reporting a claim. However, I’ve seen policies that require the policyholder to notify the company in writing. So, make sure that the method of reporting your claim is acceptable to the insurance company. Likely, your agent has his name and telephone number on the policy. If so, call him and report the loss also.
Sometimes, an agent will have settlement authority to handle small losses, such as homeowner’s losses under $2,000.00. In that kind of instance, the agent could handle the claim for you. I’ve found this situation to be rare, though. Occasionally, captive agents (agents that work for only one company, like Allstate, Nationwide or Liberty Mutual) will have a small amount of settlement authority.
The first thing you should remember is that the agent is licensed by the Department of Insurance in his state to be an agent. There is a separate license for claims adjusters. It’s actually a violation of insurance regulations for an agent to do claims adjusting. It’s not his job to handle your claim, but to assist you in buying the coverage that’s right for you. Agents can be very helpful by making calls on your behalf if you’re having problems in your claim. They can be helpful in finding out key names and phone numbers for insurance company personnel that are handling your claim. If the agent has a large number of policyholders with that company, and his clientele represents a large amount of premium to that insurance company, it can be very helpful to have the agent call on your behalf when you’re having problems.
After all, it’s all about customer service, and keeping the promises made in the insurance policy.
Sometimes, the agent or an office secretary/customer service representative will fill out a claim form (called an ACORD form), and submit the claim form to the insurance company on your behalf. In this age of the Internet, frequently the claim form is electronic, and the agent will submit the electronic form by computer.
If the agent notifies the company on your behalf, and uses some type of form, ask the agent to send you a copy of the completed form. Then, you’ll be certain that the claim was submitted, and the date the claim was submitted.
Many times, however, the agent will have to refer you to the claims department of the insurance company. Your policy may have a telephone number for the claims department listed on the policy, and instructions how to make a claim.
Your policy requires you to notify the insurance company “in a timely manner” after you’ve had a claim. What is timely? It varies policy to policy. But each state has statutes of limitation that limit the amount of time after a claim occurrence that a claim can be made. Check with your state’s Department of Insurance to determine the statute of limitation where you live…or where the loss occurred. You’ll find a list of all of the Insurance Departments of all 50 U.S. states and their phone numbers in the Appendix, and at the website address shown below.
For example: you live in Minnesota, and own a retirement home in Florida. The Florida house gets hit by a hurricane. The statutes for Florida would apply.
WARNING: If you wait more than a month after your loss to notify the insurance company, they will be instantly suspicious. In those cases, you should expect to receive one of two forms from the insurance company before they begin their investigation of the loss:
Non-Waiver Agreement. This basically states that the insurance company is going to do a thorough investigation of the claim, but that their investigation does not commit them to pay the claim. It states that they do not waive any of their rights under the policy, and that the insured does not waive any of his rights by cooperating with the investigation. The insurance company wants the insured to sign this form. However, if the Insured refuses to sign the form, the insurance company will send him a….
Reservation of Rights letter. This states basically the same thing as a Non-Waiver Agreement, but the Insured does not have to sign it.
Don’t forget to write in your claim journal the date, time, who you spoke with, the phone number you called, and what was said when you reported your claim. That information could be very valuable later if you have problems with your claim.
Most likely, you’ll receive a claim number from the company when you report the loss. Write the claim number in your journal!!! Don’t expect the insurance company to quickly send you a form that has the claim number on it. Sometimes, it may be many days before the claims department sends you any correspondence, and you will likely need to speak with them before then.
WARNING: What about a situation in which someone else is at fault, and you’re making a claim against the other person’s insurance company? This could happen in an auto accident, or if someone causes damage to your house, or your contents. EVEN IN THIS SITUATION, you must notify your own insurance company that you’re involved in a claim.
The reason is that third party claims don’t always turn out well for you, the claimant. Sometimes, the other person’s insurance company denies liability or denies coverage. Sometimes, the other person’s insurance company drags the process out. Sometimes, the other person’s insurance company makes a settlement offer far below the fair value of the claim. Months may pass, and you have suffered a financial loss that is not getting paid.
What if you, or someone in your family, is injured in the claim…and the other guy’s insurance company won’t accept liability?
Those things might occur weeks or months after a loss. In many cases, you can short-cut that process and make a claim against your own insurance policy to repair the damages. Then your insurance company will do something called “Subrogation.” That is, they will pay your claim, and then contact the other person’s insurance company and demand reimbursement, including your deductible.
So, if you don’t report your claim right away, the policy might allow that insurance company to deny your claim based upon late reporting.
Besides, your policy REQUIRES you to notify the insurance company “promptly” after you have a loss of covered property. That requirement is there no matter who is at fault for the damages.
Don’t get caught in this technicality! Don’t lose your right to collect what you deserve when you notify the insurance company.
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