Insurance department offers tips on dealing with storm damage claims, unscrupulous contractors

As Ohioans continue to assess the damage from Wednesday night's windstorm, Ohio
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

As Ohioans continue to assess the damage from Wednesday night’s windstorm, Ohio Department of Insurance Director Mary Jo Hudson is providing important insurance tips to help assist in the claims filing process. 

Ohioans are also encouraged to keep an eye out for unscrupulous contractors who may be trying to defraud homeowners.

IF YOU SUFFERED PROPERTY DAMAGE FROM A STORM:

* Call your insurance company as soon as you can. Be sure your agent knows how to contact you.

* Take reasonable steps to prevent additional damage if permitted by public safety authorities and if you will not endanger yourself.   Call your local utility to let them know of any downed power lines.  DO NOT attempt to move any power lines that may have fallen on your property.

* Closely inspect property and cars for damage. Note and photograph any damage.

* If required to seek temporary housing, check your policy for “loss of use“ coverage.

* Be sure everything is considered in your claim. Back up claims with written estimates

Advance Insurance Planning Tips:

* Examine your homeowners/rental coverage as well as auto policies to determine if you need to revise your policy to reflect any improvements or changes that will affect your coverage needs.

--- Be sure you have adequate coverage and deductibles that are reasonable for your needs.

--- Rain, hail, lightning and tornado damage are generally covered in a standard homeowners and comprehensive portion of an auto policy.

--- Since flood insurance is not included in routine homeowner and renter’s insurance policies, now is the time to check on the necessity and availability of flood insurance in your area. Call the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at 1-800-638-6620 to learn more.

* Ask your insurance agent about whether a policy rider for flooding from sewer backups or sump pump issues is appropriate to add to your policy.

--- Compile a detailed written inventory of your home and belongings and supplement that inventory with a videotape or photographs. Keep the inventory off-premises in a safety deposit box, or other secure location.

The Department Severe Weather On-line Toolkit, available HERE, provides guidance on what steps to take when filing an insurance claim in the event that property is damaged in a storm.

CONTRACTOR FRAUD

In order to combat insurance fraud committed by unscrupulous contractors, the Department is implementing new techniques to detect and investigate situations where it is believed home repair contractors have committed insurance fraud. Examples include situations where general contractors may have intentionally damaged property belonging to a consumer in order to justify the need for repairs, submitted estimates and invoices containing false or deceptive statements to Ohio’s insurance carriers, failed to provide consumers with products and services agreed upon, installed a lower quality product than what was originally promised or defrauded consumers of their insurance proceeds.

Consumers are encouraged to:

* Contact their insurance company to verify benefits immediately after a disaster.

* Obtain a list of reputable contractors from their insurance carrier, the Better Business Bureau or a specialized consumer organization.

* Contact multiple contractors and obtain more than one estimate.

* Request references from contractors and contact the references to verify work was completed timely and to satisfaction.

* Obtain, in writing, the terms and conditions of the project.

* Avoid signing a contract until the document is reviewed fully and/or discuss the terms of the contract with a legal representative or a trusted adviser.

* Avoid signing a contract that has not been completed fully.

* Pay contractor by check or credit card, rather than in cash.

* Refrain from paying a contractor in full, or signing a completion certificate, until all work has been finished.

* Do not provide the contractor with your personal information, such as your social security number.

* Consider hiring a public adjuster for assistance in the negotiation and/or settlement of a claim.