How to Speed Up Insurance Claims When Winter Hammers You

Northeast Blizzard: How to Speed Up Damage Claims

It's been a bitter winter for many, whether in Chicago, Boston and even parts of the South. Record-breaking cold snaps and amounts of snow and ice have played havoc, whether through traffic accidents or damage to roofs. The circumstances have made many become far more familiar with the insurance claims process than they might have liked.

Worse than navigating the bureaucracy of filing a claim is waiting for the money to do the necessary repairs. Given the increased pace of claims this year -- some insurance agencies have seen them jump by as much as ninefold, according to the Boston Globe -- the lines to get attention will be longer than ever. Here are some ways to speed the process.

Avoid the damage in the first place

Most damage from winter storms can be avoided with some advanced planning. For example, much of the house damage that happens in heavy snow regions isn't from the snow so much as from ice. In Boston, for example, where a 30-day period brought a record six feet of snow, according to Insurance Journal, most insurance claims are from water damage caused by ice dams. (For the uninitiated, layers of snow on roofs melt and then refreeze. That keeps water from draining and can force it under roofing, where it then leaks through ceilings.)

If such is your lot in life, plan on cleaning off your roof. Flat roofs may let you shovel, while you can use extensible roof rakes on sloped roofs, according to Travelers (TRV). Be careful about using ladders, as they can be dangerous when perched on snow and ice. No matter what your roof type, if in doubt, get a professional to do the work. It will cost, but not as much as extensive overhead damage.

Consider having trees trimmed near structures or cars. A limb weighted with snow and ice can come hurtling down and turn into a destructive force.

Be sure your car tires are in good shape. When there is a lot of snow and ice, consider getting snow tires and, if possible, stick to four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles. Also, drive with caution. Lower your speeds and recognize that piled-up snow can form walls that make seeing traffic more difficulty.

When bad things happen

You may not have been able to take all precautions or, even if you did, something might have gone wrong. MarketWatch had advice on how to speed claims approval:
  • File early. Homeowners may be slow in filing because they are uncertain if there's enough damage beyond a deductible to merit a claim. Let the insurance company or a public adjuster that you've hired make the initial determination. Waiting only puts you further down the line for attention, as other claims come in.
  • Have the right information. Have your insurance policy on hand so you know the limits and exclusions. Document the damage, including photos (if you have shots before the damage, so much the better) and a written description, purchase records, and any repair estimates. Not that the insurance company will automatically accept them, but it helps them get started.
  • Hire your own adjuster. An adjuster in the employ of the insurance company works for the insurer and is more likely to be biased toward the company. A public adjuster can help speed the process. However, you have to pay them, usually a portion of the settlement, so be sure the damage is high enough that any fee will be more than offset by the additional money the adjuster might be able to get. As MarketWatch reported, according to the Hurricane Law Group, a Florida firm that specializes in storm-related insurance issues, that probably means at least $25,000 in damage to a home.
  • Bring up mitigating factors. Insurance people aren't heartless. Unusual circumstances might get you bumped to the front of the line. For example, a family with a special needs child might find that temporary housing causes a problem for the child's care. But don't try to make something up. Just as an insurer can move things along to be helpful, they can also make your life more painful if they think you're trying to play them.
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