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Close to 100,000 homes and between 300,000 and 500,000 cars are estimated to have been damaged by Hurricane Harvey's catastrophic rainfall in the Houston area. 

Image: Brian Kennedy

When the damage is as devastating as it was after Hurricane Harvey, it may be difficult to keep track of all that's on the to-do list – especially when it comes to filing insurance claims. Though the task may seem intimidating, tedious or pointless at times, it’s a necessary step for those who suffered the most to recoup costs.

Houstonia talked with Dirk Fournier, CEO of the Fournier Group, a personal and commercial insurance company based in Portland, about the best practices for navigating the insurance market after a natural disaster. Here are his five major points of advice.  

1. Understand That Every Policy Is Different

Before assessing damage to your property, Fournier recommends doing a quick mental rundown of the types of policies you own, as different claims will fall under different policies with different companies and varying deductibles. If your car is damaged, you should file that with your auto insurance company. If your apartment’s ceiling is leaking, that should be filed through your renters’ insurance.

Damages to your home, especially the type caused by Harvey, can be trickier. Generally, insurers and policy owners will have to determine if damage should be filed under federal flood-insurance policies or private homeowners’ policies. “Flood insurance is a completely different type of scenario, product and policy than a homeowner's policy,” Fournier says. “Homeowners need to ask themselves, ‘Is this going to be deemed a flood or a hurricane or a windstorm event?’ Insurers can sometimes get into a disagreement over how damage occurred.” Typically, if water rises into a home, insurers will agree to file this as a flood insurance claim. But if damage is caused from excessive rain through a faulty roof, for instance, this would be filed under a homeowner's policy, Fournier explains. 

2. File ASAP

The faster policy owners submit their claims, the faster they will get to the “proverbial front of the line” at a time when insurance companies are inundated with calls. Not to mention, many insurance policies have a clause that requires owners to promptly notify the company of damage. “Don’t assume an insurer is going to contact you. You have to put them on notification,” Fournier says.

3. Expect to Wait

Even policy owners at the front of the line, Fournier says, should expect it to take significantly longer than normal for their claims to be adjusted, especially if they're working with a larger, national insurance company. “In the event of a natural disaster, one of the questions you need to ask right away is, ‘When will an adjuster call me back?’” he says. “When you call a claim in, you won’t immediately be talking to an adjuster, and you may or may not have an adjuster call you back depending on the severity of your claim.”

Fournier explains that oftentimes during a natural disaster, insurance companies will create separate “catastrophic units” that triage calls based on the intensity of the claim and accessibility of the damaged area. “Don't be surprised by getting transferred to a ‘cat center,’ or if they are giving you a week or two weeks to get back to you,” he recommends. On the other hand, some insurance companies will settle minor claims, such as a broken fence or windshield, over the phone during a crisis. 

4. You’ll Need Proof

Document anything and everything that adds to the cost of the damage or exceeds your normal cost of living. “People are surprised if they are asked for a verification or proof of loss, but it’s a very common request. Don’t be intimidated. It doesn’t limit the amount you can get on your claim,” Fournier says. In addition to photos, notes and phone logs, Fournier recommends keeping receipts for temporary lodging, meals out, expenses to move and any other out-of-the-ordinary expenses brought about by the storm.

5. Kill 'Em With Kindness

Be open and flexible with your insurance adjuster. “Every time the adjuster picks up the phone it’s for a negative situation. Any way that you can show mutual empathy for what they are going through goes a long way,” Fournier says. “They have hundreds of claims to deal with. It’s human nature — they are going to deal with the nicer people first.”

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