Last night, March 14, 2008, at about 9:30, a strong tornado struck the downtown area of Atlanta, Georgia. From early reports, it appears that only a few people...less than a dozen...were injured. However, there was widespread property damage in both residential areas and the main commercial area of downtown.
All of the television stations rushed their camera crews to the darkened streets of downtown Atlanta, and for hours, that's all they talked about. They used descriptive terms like "chaos" and "total devastation" to describe what they saw.
Fortunately, their words were only the hype that TV reporters are known for.
Please don't misunderstand. In the light of early Saturday morning, we got aerial shots of the damage. The property damage is widespread, but seldom very deep. This is nothing like the tornadoes that swept through the Midwest a couple months ago, erasing entire small towns from the map. There are lots of skyscraper windows blown out, lots of roof damage, trees and power lines down, and many houses damaged. But "total devastation" it isn't!
There were tens of thousands of people in the downtown area last night. The Southeast Conference (SEC) was having their basketball conference championship tournament in the Georgia Dome. Big trade shows were in town. Thanks be to God, there were almost no injuries and no deaths.
My rough first estimate of damages is $50 million for both commercial and residential damages.
Now, the repairs begin. The insurance companies will swarm the area with adjusters. I can say with the certainty of years of claims adjusting experience that almost none of the policyholders will know how to submit a claim. Nor will they know what the claims process is, and how to maximize their claims settlement. Even the owners of the skyscrapers, hotels and office buildings are ignorant of the process of insurance claims.
What should the victims of these storms do? How about a Top Ten List?
1. Slow down. Don't accept a fast payment from your insurance adjuster if it means you close your file. Insurance companies love to make fast payments. But if you accept a payment before you know all your damages, you'll be giving your insurance company a big discount. Worst, you won't be able to get the repairs done for the money.
2. Notify the Insurance Company. Make sure you notify the insurance company the way the policy tells you to. You can put your claim in jeopardy if you don't do it right.
3. Mitigate your damages. That's a fancy term for protecting your property from further damage. Put a tarp over the roof...plastic over a broken window...that kind of protection. The expenses you'll incur are covered by your policy.
4. Take LOTS of photos. Don't rely on the adjuster...it's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to prove your claim. The adjuster might not get to you for days. You may need to make temporary repairs to get your business back working, or your home livable. Cleanup might mean you're throwing away stuff you should get paid for. Make sure you've made a photo record of your loss.
5. Start a document file. Keep everything related to this claim in one place, like a box. Keep all receipts, claim documents, photos, EVERYTHING in that box.
6. Open a checking account just for handling the money for the repairs. This keeps you from mingling the funds with your normal household or business funds. It also makes record keeping easier.
7. Don't just blindly accept the adjuster that the insurance company sends to your home or business. Interview the adjuster to find out if they are trained to handle your loss. If your adjuster has two years or less experience, call his supervisor and DEMAND another adjuster.
8. If you need money to begin demolition of cleanup, ask the adjuster for an advance. If you need funds for Business Income or Additional Living Expenses, ask the adjuster for an advance. It's done all the time, but many times the insurance company won't volunteer it.
9. Record EVERY conversation you have with your adjuster. Keep a diary of adjusting activity. Don't EVER trust an adjuster to work on your behalf. His paycheck is paid by the insurance company. He's on THEIR SIDE.
10. Call a Public Insurance Adjuster (PA) to evaluate your claim. Public Adjusters are licensed through the State Department of Insurance to represent policyholders, not represent the insurance company. Hiring a PA will usually result in you getting more money in your settlement than if you just accept the offer from the insurance company.
Think about this... you hire doctors when you're sick. You hire attorneys when you have legal issues. You hire accountants to handle your books or file your taxes. So, in this case, when you do not know the insurance claims process, why would you hesitate to hire a claims professional to represent you in the submission of your claim? At the very least, you should consult a PA to find out if it makes economic sense for you to hire a PA. Your claim might not be big enough to warrant a PA, but you won't know unless you ask one. By the way, don't ask your insurance company adjuster if you need a PA. What would you expect them to say?
My book, "Insurance Claim Secrets REVEALED," goes into deeper detail on the claims process. Pick up a copy at my website or at Amazon.
Good Luck to you, my Atlanta neighbors! I hope you'll contact me if you have questions about your claim.