It’s easy to talk about settling a homeowners insurance claim like it’s a single event. But unless you suffered a total loss and your carrier is paying your policy limit immediately, your final settlement will be the sum of many smaller settlement payments made to you over time.
Whether or not your carrier will pay enough to cover your loss is a function of every choice you make about your claim. Before you accept or agree to any repair estimates, valuations, or payments from your insurance carrier — either as partial or full settlement for your damages — know how you’ll prove these 5 things.
Covered Cause of Loss
Some causes of loss are obvious: a wildfire came down the mountain and consumed the town in its path. Others causes aren’t so clear: did the roof collapse from the weight of the snow that fell or because the straight-line winds that damaged a wall?
Your homeowners insurance policy will tell you what is covered, what is excluded, and if there are any endorsements or amendments that change the language in your policy language. Read it carefully, keeping a keen eye out for provisions that can be interpreted more than one way: courts agree these ambiguities favor you, the policyholder.
Remember, in the most common type of homeowners policies — an open-perils policy — coverage is presumed for all losses that aren’t specifically excluded. This means the language of the exclusion must match your loss exactly. Exclusions that do not match cannot be used to exclude coverage.
Conversely, if you have a named-perils policy, the cause of your loss must be named specifically in your policy, or coverage is excluded.
Full Extent of Your Damages
Figuring out the full extent of your damages can be a challenge. For example, a severe kitchen fire can release smoke, soot, and toxic fumes throughout a house. Proving the full extent of the damages quickly becomes a question of what all is damaged, how badly, whether it can be cleaned/repaired or must be replaced, and at what cost?
Of course, the answers to these questions depend on whose interests are being served in the process, yours or your insurance carrier’s. If you want it to be yours, you’ll need to provide evidence of your claim, including:
- Documentation of your loss
- Independent assessment of the damage to your home/building(s)
- Inventory of your personal property
- Determination of what should be replaced vs. repaired
Damage hides, too. Water losses can result in mold damage. Soot can collect in ductwork, walls, flooring, etc. Even the tiniest piece of charred wood left in a wall can produce a noxious, long-lasting odor that pushes its way back into the room through the smallest of openings. If you or your contractor discover additional damage, make sure it’s documented, then provide your insurer with additional evidence of your need and cost to repair or replace the additional damaged property.
Compliance With Contractual Obligations
A homeowners insurance policy is a legally binding contract between the insurer and the insured. As such, both have a series of contractual obligations that must be met following a loss. Failure to meet these obligations can lead to claim delays and denials for the policyholder, or breach of contract and bad faith lawsuits for the insurance carrier.
All homeowners insurance policies require policyholders to:
- Take reasonable steps to mitigate your damages.
- Contact the police if you think a crime was committed.
- Provide your insurer with prompt notification of your loss.
- Cancel any debit or credit cards that were damaged or compromised.
- Many more. Read your policy.
Valuation Reflects Scope of Damages and Cost to Repair or Replace
Things can get very intense when your carrier provides its first lowball valuation of your damaged home or personal property. Certainly, it will appear to be a very thorough response to your loss. It will be calculated using industry software, and you’ll likely catch a lot of insurance policy jargon — ACV, RCV, standard/recoverable/non-recoverable depreciation, and more — in the offer.
Do not be distracted by the display. Valuation is a highly subjective arena, and the result tells the truth about who the numbers favor.
You have every right, and indeed the obligation, to provide your carrier with your own documented scope of loss and valuations of your damages. Rooting your claim strategy in your homeowners insurance policy, and supporting your conclusions with abundant evidence, pave the path to a full and fair settlement for your damages.
Additional Expenses Incurred as a Result of Your Loss
Most policies provide coverage for the additional costs you incur as a result of your loss. This type of coverage goes by many names — Additional Living Expenses, Loss of Use, Additional Costs Incurred — and is restricted by either a time or monetary limit.
It’s important to note this coverage is for out-of-pocket expenses actually incurred in excess of your normal living expenses. For example, if your normal monthly food cost was $400, but because you’re staying in a hotel with no kitchen, your food cost jumps to $1200, your reimbursable additional food expense would be $800 for that month.
See our blog for more information about what is or isn’t covered by loss of use provisions. In the meantime, be sure to save all your receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses you incur related to your homeowners insurance claim.
Get Help Proving Your Claim
Property damage claims are complex. The larger your loss, the more challenging it is to prove the full extent of your damages.
That’s where Miller Public Adjusters comes in. Our team of dedicated claims professionals can document your damages, verify your coverage, produce fair valuations that put your interests first, and negotiate the maximum settlement available under the terms of your policy.
We work exclusively for you, never for the insurance companies! Click below to request a Free Claim Review.