Understanding insurance claims and disaster recovery
Whether it’s a wildfire or severe flooding as was recently experienced in Nova Scotia, picking up the pieces after a disaster isn’t easy.
Your insurer will work closely with you to help you get your life – and your property – back on track. Understanding how the claim process works before you need to make one can help reduce stress in the aftermath of damage or loss.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) offers these guidelines to property owners as to what you can expect:
- Your insurance company will assign someone to assess the damage and prepare an estimated cost of repairs. This could be an adjuster or a property appraiser. Once coverage has been confirmed and if the claim is approved, you can schedule repairs with a contractor of your choice or one suggested by your insurer. If you pick your own, speak with your insurance adjuster first to find out how much of the estimate the insurer will pay.
- Your adjuster will send you a ‘Proof of Loss’ form to complete. This is a declaration of your claim in which you list the property or items that have been damaged or destroyed and their estimated cost. Tip: Having a home inventory complete with photos and receipts will make this process much easier.
- Speak with your adjuster to get an idea of timelines and to ensure you have a full understanding of all the steps in the process. They are there to offer guidance with your claim.
If it’s safe to do so, policyholders are obligated to protect their property from further damage. For example, that may include boarding up windows or placing tarps over damaged roofs to protect against rain or snow.
Keep in mind if it is unsafe to do temporary repairs yourself, your adjuster may be able to provide names of contractors to help mitigate further damage. Always be sure to listen to the directives of all local emergency officials.
Severe weather events
IBC notes that during major weather events, insurance companies may initiate temporary limitations on the sale of new policies in areas under imminent threat. Only those in areas that are under imminent threat are commonly subject to temporary restrictions or limitations on the sale of new coverage.
Consumers who want to change their coverage levels during such events, for example a windstorm threat, may face difficulties. Many policies include a ‘Declaration of Emergency Endorsement,’ which can extend the expiration date of policies when an emergency is declared by government, and your insurer cannot provide your renewal. This ensures the existing policy stays in force, typically for another 120 days. The purpose of this insurance is to protect you from unforeseen events. It is important to have coverage year-round and not wait for events to occur before trying to secure insurance protection for your home and property.
Some examples of the limitations/restrictions that may be put in place for areas facing a threat from a weather event include:
- New policies
- Deductible changes
- Alterations to insured limits
- Major changes to existing policies
Since these restrictions are temporary, they will ease as the threat decreases. If you have questions about your policy or want to adjust your coverage limits, don’t wait until the event occurs since you may not be able to make the changes until the threat has passed.
Making a claim
IBC offers some good advice on the claims process including:
1) Document everything – Once it’s safe to do so, make a complete list of all lost, damaged, destroyed, or stolen items. If possible, attach receipts, owner’s manuals, and warranties. In addition, take photos of damaged or destroyed items. Keep notes and be detailed as possible when documenting the damage or providing information. Keep damaged items unless they pose a health hazard or are dangers. Keep all receipts related to the cleanup. Review and update your home inventory list.
2) Contact your insurer – Report an accident or claim to your insurance company and provide complete, accurate details as soon as possible following a theft, accident, or property damage. Most companies have a 24-hour claims service number. Keep your insurer’s contact information handy. In the event your home is unfit to live in, ask your insurer about the Additional Living Expenses (ALE) that may be covered under your policy and for how long. ALE covers anything over and above your normal expenses, but not all living expenses while you are displaced. There may also be limited coverage for mass evacuation under certain circumstances. Keep all receipts and invoices for your expenses following your loss. After filing your claim, a claims specialist or adjuster will contact you. They will document the loss circumstances, review the documents you provide, explain what is covered and next steps.
3) File a proof of loss form if requested –When you file your claim, your insurer may ask you to complete a proof of loss form. This lists all damaged or lost property or items with the estimated value or cost of the damage or loss. You must sign and swear the statements are true. If they are not, your insurance may be voided. Typically, a proof of loss form must be completed and returned to your insurer within 30 days. Your claims adjuster can answer any specific questions you have.
If you’ve just experienced damage due to a severe weather event and have questions, you can also contact IBC’s Consumer Information Centre.