So, let's assume you did the right thing in getting insurance to protect yourself against those times when Mother Nature comes knocking. Well, if you live on the Eastern Seaboard, it looks like she'll be banging on your door early next week, and this time, she's bringing Frankenstorm.
This rare hybrid of three big weather systems could be a challenge for your emergency plan. But it's after Hurricane Sandy blows through that you may face the real challenge: Getting your insurance company to pony up the cash instead of trying to deny your claim.
As J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America and former federal insurance administrator, noted in connection with Hurricane Irene last year: "Families will have to dig deeper into their pockets, because insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other policy limitations."
"This liability shift to consumers may take some by surprise, since disclosures are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read," he said.
"We urge homeowners dealing with losses ... to be vigilant with their insurance companies to ensure that that they receive a full and fair settlement," concluded Hunter.
All still good advice.
How to Boost Your Odds of Getting Paid
The names of the storms may change, but what you need to know doesn't. So, let's look back at the advice we first offered back when we were reeling from Hurricane Irene, from DailyFinance's Sheryl Nance-Nash, because if you want to increase the likelihood that your insurer writes that check, there is much to do.
Don't dillydally when it comes to reporting your claim: Insurance companies generally handle them first come, first serve, warns Hunter.
Once your claim is reported, get your claim number and write it down. Having that number will make your life -- and the insurance company's -- easier.
Find out a little about the adjuster who will come to your house to assess the damage. You want to know if he is an employee of the insurance company or an independent adjuster hired by your insurer. The answer matters: If the person is independent, get the name of the actual insurance company adjuster whom the independent adjuster is sending your information to, and find out whether they are authorized to make claim decisions and payments on behalf of your insurance company.
Beware of firms that demand up-front fees for services, regardless of the outcome they negotiate on your behalf with the insurance company. Public adjusters work purely on a contingency basis, ensuring that a homeowner does not pay anything unless he or she receives some form of settlement, said David Charles, president of Catastrophic Claims Consultants.
Build Your Evidence
Anticipate the possibility of push-back from the insurance company, and be ready to hit them with documentation. When you file a claim, CFA advises immediately starting a notebook detailing all your contacts with the insurance company. List the date, time and a brief description of what went down. If you need to amplify later, this will give you a leg to stand on. If an adjuster says he or she will not come out, for example, write it down. If an adjuster is a jerk, note that too.
You own a ton of stuff. Make a list of it all. Better still if you took photos of your possessions before the storm, but If you didn't, don't sweat it. "Those snapshots from a party may offer proof of your TV that was destroyed, or the rug that was ruined," said Phillip Sanov, an attorney with The Lanier Law Firm.
Do, however, take photographs of the damage before doing any repair work to your home. Also, make an itemized list of all damage sustained during the storm and its aftermath, advises Frank Keaney, who specializes in homeowners insurance with Amity Insurance. Do all you can to minimize secondary damage: Your homeowner's policy requires that you "mitigate damage," said Kevin Lynch, an assistant professor of insurance at The American College.
You'll want to do some homework by getting a repair estimate from a contractor to help you in talking with the adjuster. Hang on to receipts for any emergency repairs, and costs such as if you have to stay in a hotel. This may be reimbursable under the "additional living expense" portion of your homeowners' policy, said Keaney.
If needed, you can use weather data provided by the Forensic Weather Consultants at www.weatherconsultants.com, a company of forensic meteorologists who can substantiate hurricane based insurance claims.
It should go without saying, but be honest. Claim inflation invites claim denial, said Michael Huber, partner with the law firm of Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin.
Make sure you follow up on your case: Don't just file the claim, sit back and wait for your payment. Check in regularly with your insurance agent or company on the progress of your claim, said John Egan, managing editor of InsuranceQuotes.com.
If your insurer denies your claim or offers a piddly amount, don't just accept it. CFA advises demanding that the company identify the language in your homeowners' policy that served as the basis for denying your claim or offering so little. The company may be right and you may not know it. Once the company pinpoints the key language in the policy, you should be able to make this determination. Then too, it could be that the company has craftily put new limitations into the policy and didn't make them clear to you. If you feel misled, weigh whether you want to contact an attorney.
For example, said Hunter, the introduction of percentage deductibles (up to 10% of the value of a home), will greatly shift the cost from insurance companies to consumers. The practice of shifting the cost of previously insured events back to consumers is acceptable, as long as consumers are clearly given the option to select the level of coverage they want with fully informed consent.
Another new way insurers can pull a "gotcha" is by putting a limit on replacement cost payments, which might come into play in the event that a home is totally destroyed. A typical cap is 20% above the face value of the policy. According to CFA, if costs surge because of the spike in demand for materials or labor following a major storm (or if the state does not monitor price gouging sufficiently) this limit might apply. For example, if a home was expected to cost $200,000 to replace and that amount was the limit on the policy, the insurance company would pay no more than 20% more, or $240,000. If the surge in construction costs due to extreme demand caused the price of replacing the home to jump to $300,000, the homeowner would be short $60,000.
Know Your Rights
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Do complain to the powers that be in the insurance company if you feel like a denial was unwarranted or the reimbursement too little. Don't stop there. Complain to your state insurance department: It will make an inquiry with your insurer. See a lawyer if you want to take it a step further.
Once the insurance company tells you the reasons for its action, it legally can't produce new reasons for denying payment or making a low offer at a later time. You have locked them in -- a major advantage for you.
If you review the policy and find that, without stretching your imagination, it seems plausible that you should get the full amount of your claim, you will likely win if you go to court. The CFA notes that courts consistently rule that if an insurance policy is ambiguous, the reasonable expectation of the insured party will prevail since the consumer played no part in writing the language of the insurance policy.
Expect the worst, but hope for the best. Said Hunter, "Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind. Be vigilant though, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged."
How to Get Your Insurer to Pay Your Frankenstorm Damage Claim
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy is a good reminder that the strength of a storm is less important than where it makes landfall. Despite its enormous size, it was classified as only a Category 2 storm at its peak, and by the time it made landfall in the Northeast, it had been reclassified as a "post-tropical storm" (a designation that will force insurers to pay more in claims than they would have for a storm classified as a hurricane).
Hurricane or not, though, Sandy's landfall near New York City and other major population centers in the region immediately vaulted it onto the list of the most expensive storms in the nation's history. While the first wave of cleanup and recovery continues throughout the region, there's little doubt that the massive flooding and wind damage associated with Sandy will ultimately cost tens of billions of dollars, to say nothing of the human toll.
Click through our gallery to find out how Sandy stacks up to other devastating Atlantic storms.
* - Costs adjusted to 2010 dollars on basis of U.S. Dept. of Commerce Implicit Price Deflator for Construction. The storms from 2011 and later are not adjusted. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) rates Hurricane Katrina's damage at $133.8 billion 2007 dollars.
Landfall Category: 1
U.S. Damage: 11.7 Billion
Date of storm: June 18-23, 1972
U.S. areas affected: Florida(Panhandle), Georgia, Carolinas, Northeastern U.S.
This June 23, 1972, photo shows people in Harrisburg, Pa., being rescued by boat from their homes after Hurricane Agnes caused the Susquehanna River to overflow its banks, leading to heavy flooding.
U.S. areas affected: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington DC
Hurricane Irene crippled 10 states during its slow climb up the Eastern Seaboard, causing massive flooding and power outages. The brutal storm made landfall in North Carolina and traveled to Maine.
Billy Stinson (C), his wife Sandra Stinson and daughter Erin Stinson (R) comfort each other as they sit on the steps where their cottage once stood before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irene on Aug. 28, 2011 in Nags Head, N.C.
The cottage, built in 1903 was one of the first vacation cottages built on Roanoke Sound in Nags Head. Stinson had owned the home, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since 1963. "We were pretending, just for a moment, that the cottage was still behind us and we were just sitting there watching the sunset," said Erin afterward.
After striking Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, Wilma turned northeast, strengthened over the Gulf or Mexico, and made landfall near Cape Romano, Fla., on Oct. 24 as a Category 3 hurricane. The eye crossed the Florida Peninsula in less than five hours, and it moved into the Atlantic just north of Palm Beach as a still forceful Category 2 hurricane.
Pictured: A public phone is surrounded by flood waters near a block of hotels as Hurricane Wilma lashes Cancun, Mexico, on Oct. 21, 2005.
U.S. Damage:Early estimates indicate damage and economic losses as high as $50 billion
Date of Storm: October 29-31, 2012
U.S. Areas Affected: Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Vermont, and Virginia.
Pictured: NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Rising water, caused by Hurricane Sandy, rushes into a subterranian parking garage on October 29, 2012, in the Financial District of New York, United States. Hurricane Sandy, which threatens 50 million people in the eastern third of the U.S., is expected to bring days of rain, high winds and possibly heavy snow. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of all New York City will bus, subway and commuter rail service as of Sunday evening.
Landfall Category: 3
U.S. Damage: $105.8 Billion
Date of storm: Aug. 25-30, 2005
U.S. areas affected: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee
Katrina unleashed torrential rains and a potent storm surge that led to disastrous flooding that left about 1,600 people dead, destroyed thousands of homes and marred the presidency of George W. Bush, whose administration was severely criticized for its handling of the crisis.
Pictured: President Bush (center) tours the devastation in New Orleans with Mayor Ray Nagin (right), Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Vice Adm. Thad Allen.