With Hurricane Matthew downgraded to a tropical cyclone, it is time for affected businesses, property owners, and insurers to focus on quantifying the amount of damage caused by the storm. By some estimates, Hurricane Matthew will generation over 100,000 insurance claims and between $4 billion and $7.5 billion in property losses. Although the focus is typically on pre-storm preparation, the immediate steps taken this week will be important to any business owner seeking to present an adequate claim to its insurer for property damage.
Safety is always the first priority. Do not put yourself, your employees, of first responders in danger. Currently in North Carolina, the predictions are for worsening flooding in many low lying parts of the eastern part of the state, with peak flooding not reaching some areas until Wednesday (four days after the storm passed).
Once the threat of imminent danger has receded, the next step should be to document your loss. Thorough documentation of the damage to your property will be invaluable. Hopefully you will also have photographs or video from before the storm, so that any claim presented to an insurer can show both the before and after photographs of the condition of the property. Because cell phones and digital cameras are not limited by physical film, do not hesitate to shoot dozens or hundreds of photographs. Videos may be helpful as well.
At the same time you are documenting the damage, you should immediately put your insurer on notice of the loss. You should call your insurer to begin putting them on notice as soon as you arrive at the property if you assess any physical loss. After you give initial notice, you can follow up with complete details, provide the photographs you have taken, etc. The insurer will likely eventually send an adjuster to physical inspect the damage to the property.
It is important to quickly give notice for several reasons. As a legal matter, giving prompt notice prevents having a claim denied by an insurer on the basis of a late notice defense. As a practical matter, because of the large number of claims that will be filed within a short period of time, some insurers will likely handle the claims on a first-come, first-serve basis. Getting your claim in quickly gets you closer to the front of the line.
If immediate repairs are needed, take plenty of additional photos of the damage, the repairs in progress, and the final repairs. Maintain copies of documentation regarding the repairs, and provide those to your insurer. If your business had to buy or rent additional equipment as a result of the damage, or you suffered inventory loss, you will want to maintain detailed documentation of these costs as well.
Finally, whichever employee you assign to provide information to the insurer should maintain a journal or notebook. This should include copies of all documents submitted to the insurance company, along with a log of all conversations with the insurer or its representatives. The log should include the contact information of anyone from the insurer that you have contacted with, the date and time, the topics you discussed, and any additional information which you believe may be useful in the future or in the event of a dispute.