Being ready for a tropical storm or hurricane means more than protecting your property and gathering emergency supplies. The Texas Department of Insurance urges coastal residents to gather and review their insurance policies in case they need to make a claim after a storm.
The following tips can help make the claims process a little easier and speed recovery, officials said.
- Review your coverage: Check the limits of your policies, including coverage for contents and buildings. Your limits may be too low if replacement costs have risen because of new additions, improvements or inflation.
- Know what your policy covers: Homeowners, farm and ranch, renters, windstorm and condominium policies do not cover damage from rising waters. For more information about flood insurance, call the National Flood Insurance Program at (800) 427-4661 or visit its Web site at www.fema.gov/business/nfip. If you live in a coastal county, you may also need a windstorm policy from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA). For more information, call TWIA at (800) 788-8247 or visit its Web site at www.twia.org. Check your auto policy to see if you have comprehensive coverage other than collision. Comprehensive coverage pays if a storm, fire, or flood damages your car.
- Keep an inventory: Make a list of the items you own. Photograph or videotape each room and the exterior of your home. List item serial numbers when available.
- Safeguard your records: Keep insurance policies and your inventory in a safe deposit box or other secure spot. Accurate records speed up claims processing and can help prove tax-deductible, uninsured losses.
- Protect your property: If a hurricane or severe storm warning is issued, and you have time, take appropriate precautions. Secure windows, move your car into a garage or other shelter, secure boats and trailers, move loose items such as lawn furniture and lawn equipment indoors or under cover.
- After the storm: Check your house and car for damage. Contact your insurance company promptly to report damage and follow up with a written claim to protect your rights. Your homeowners and renters policies will pay for debris removal and temporary living expenses. Make necessary repairs to protect your home and property from further damage. Cover broken windows and holes to keep rain out. However, do not make permanent repairs before a claims adjuster inspects the damage. Keep a record of your repair expenses and save all receipts. Photograph the damage. Try to be present when the adjuster inspects your damage.
- Resolving your claim: Your insurance company must acknowledge that it has begun an investigation within 15 days of receiving your claim. The company may request additional information to settle your claim. Once it has that information, the company must accept or reject your claim within 15 business days or tell you why it needs more time. If the Commissioner of Insurance designates the event as a major catastrophe, the claim handling deadlines are extended for an additional 15 days. Once a settlement is reached, the company has five business days to mail you a check. If you do not receive your payment promptly, call your agent. If you have questions about your claim, call TDI at 1-800-252-3439 or visit our Web site at www.tdi.state.tx.us.
- Work with reputable contractors: Ask contractors for references and verify them. Contact your Better Business Bureau, local police, or Chamber of Commerce for information. Insist on an itemized contract in writing and pay only as work is completed. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act prohibits price gouging once the governor has declared an area a disaster area. Call the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hot Line at (800) 337-3928 if you suspect price gouging or any other deceptive business practice.