Bad weather is hitting Florida this weekend and possibly hurricane force winds from Erika. It is very important to be both prepared before you suffer damage and to be aware of your resources and obligations if your home or business suffers damage.

One of the most common and basic requirements of insurance is that you need to report the claim. How you make the report can vary, so here are some tips that can help with an everyday claim or a catastrophe.

  1. Stay safe! Yes, you have a duty to be prompt in your communications to the insurance company but make sure the storm is over before you start taking action. Keep your family’s health and safety at the top of your priorities.
  2. When making contact with your insurance company- what you say and what you gain from this communication is very important. Have your policy handy.
    1. Keep one notepad for all the claim information and be sure to note the number you called, time, date, whom you spoke with and what advise they gave you. Note the claim number assigned. Also sure to ask for the name of the representative (first and last).
    2. Make this call from your cellular line so there is a record of the call and the length.
    3. Can’t get through? Note each attempt and keep trying.
  3. Until an investigation of the damage happens, you do not know the extent of the damage. You can describe what you see but ask for a qualified representative to come inspect the damage. You may feel like the damage is minor and limited to just a tree over the garage, but additional problems that are not as obvious may also be present. It can take a good expert and time for the true extent of the damage to be determined. Unfortunately, after the storm clears and the dust settles more problems may come to light.
  4. Watch your terminology in all discussions with an insurance company. Flood is a very specific term to insurance companies and yet policyholders use the term loosely. The source of water makes all the difference here. If water is in your home from a pipe break or water coming from the sky, you do not have a flood. Your house may be filled with water, but again this is not a flood.
  5. Mold is another term that can mean one thing to you and a completely different thing to the insurance company. If you have not tested the damages, do not know if it is mold. Same goes for any post on social media. Watch your words!
  6. Ask your insurance company what the instructions are to you and write them down.
  7. Ask your insurance company who they are sending and what licenses these persons hold in your state. Verify this information when the person arrives.
  8. Ask what you should do to mitigate your damages. Your policy likely requires that you take steps to secure your property but you must be careful to ensure that you do not dispose of or cover up a problem that the insurance company needs to see first.
  9. Wait before you use your dumpster. Insurance companies don’t pay for things they can’t see. Someone might tell you over the phone that it is ok to dispose of all the spoiled food or wet personal items. Waiting until their representative can inspect is the safest bet.
  10. Photograph, photograph, photograph. Now with smart phones policyholders may be better about documenting the property with photos and this can be extremely helpful for your claim. Just make sure you keep a copy of the photos somewhere safe. Having the photos only on your phone is not good enough. Upload to a photo sharing site like www.shutterfly.com or www.snapfish.com.

If all of this sounds overwhelming and stressful, the best solution for you may be to hire a licensed and experienced Florida Insurance Adjuster of your own. Yes, the insurance company will eventually send someone to your home, but you can hire your own public adjuster who can handle your claim in an expedited and streamlined fashion. An experienced adjuster will have great communication with you and your insurance company, will document the damages at your property in a way that can even be used in a courtroom, and can negotiate and make sure you are being paid for all the coverages under that confusing insurance policy that changes every year. Florida has an association of highly skilled public adjusters that are trained on the latest insurance information and ethics courses. You can search this group at www.FAPIA.net.

Watch out for unlicensed scammers calling themselves “contractors.” To Verify Contractor License Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, call (850) 487-1395.

A new tip: Florida has a Storm Hotline

Whenever a tropical storm, hurricane or severe tornado takes aim at our state, a special consumer helpline is activated where you can obtain assistance on any insurance matter.

The disaster assistance line is 1-850-413-3089

Stay Safe Floridians and fell free to comment below with any questions.