Tornadoes ripped through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida last Sunday, taking a heavy toll on those in their path. Alabama’s Lee County was especially hard-hit: The Atlantic reported winds of up to 170 miles per hour that leveled a stretch of homes and property more than 20 miles long. Red Cross estimates more than 1,000 homes were destroyed and hundreds of people were left displaced in the wake of the tornadoes.
While communities that were hit hard by this catastrophe begin to rebuild, there will be a lot of questions about what comes next. For those who lost their homes or incurred significant damages, dealing with insurance companies might feel like an overwhelming process — especially if they haven’t had to file a claim on their homeowners insurance before.
Thankfully, insurance companies are well-versed in disaster mitigation. You can turn to your insurer for guidance through the claims process and help getting repairs underway.
That said, there are a few important things to keep in mind when you contact your insurer about a homeowners insurance claim.
“Debris lies scattered on March 4, 2019, after homes were damaged by a tornado a day earlier in Beauregard.” (David Goldman / AP for The Atlantic.)
Yes, Tornado Damage Is Covered by Your Home Insurance
A standard HO-3 homeowners insurance policy (the type most people have) covers damage to homes and belongings caused by tornadoes. If your home was one of over 1,000 affected by Sunday’s storms in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, the first thing you should do is reach out to your insurance company ASAP so they can help you start the claims filing process.
Here’s What Your Homeowners Insurance Will Pay For
Rebuilding your home and other insured structures, up to the maximum dwelling limit listed on your insurance policy.
Replacing belongings that were damaged or destroyed, up to the maximum personal property limit listed on your policy.
Temporary repairs required to secure your home and belongings while it awaits a full rebuild. Make sure to keep your receipts for reimbursement if you pay for any temporary repairs out of pocket.
Living expenses for you and your family while your home undergoes repairs, including alternate lodging and eating out. Make sure to keep your receipts for reimbursement.
“On March 4, 2019, Beauregard residents sift through the damage to their home in the aftermath of a tornado.(David Goldman / AP for The Atlantic.)
There Are A Few Things You Should Know Before Filing a Claim
Lynne McChristian, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, shared these important tips about filing a post-tornado homeowners insurance claim:
Document everything and stay organized
Keep track of all communications with your insurance company, from the first phone call onward. Record who you talked to, when, and about what, and hold onto every piece of paperwork.
“It can be as simple as keeping every communication with your insurer in one folder,” says McChristian. “You’ll want to be very clear about what’s required from your insurance company in order to file that claim.”
Make sure your insurer knows how to contact you, and you know how to contact them
There are a lot of moving pieces involved after a disaster. To make sure no part of your claim falls through the cracks, you’ll want to have multiple lines of communication open with your insurer. Make sure your company has your cell number, as well as the number of the place you’re staying if you had to relocate.
“Get the phone number of your claims adjuster and their manager,” McChristian adds. “The claims adjuster may be out in the field, and if you can’t reach him or her, it’s important to have a backup number.”
Beware the door-to-door salesman
After a large-scale disaster like this week’s tornadoes, people flock to the area — and not all of them come out of goodwill. It’s important to look out for people advertising contracting and other services they might not be qualified to provide.
“If someone comes offering a service that you didn’t request, you should be wary,” McChristian cautions. “Only deal with contracting businesses that are licensed and insured.”
How can you make sure your contractor is legit? Start by asking your insurer if they have a list of pre-approved companies to work with.
“Those contractors have already been vetted and their quality vouched for,” McChristian points out, so there won’t be any question about the standard to which your home is rebuilt.
If You Do Need to File a Claim, Here’s How
Once it’s safe to re-enter your neighborhood and evaluate damages, the Insurance Information Institute advises homeowners take these steps to set a claim in motion as soon as possible.
- Contact your insurer as soon as possible and start the claims filing process. After tornadoes and other disasters, insurance companies will reach out to those with the worst losses first.
- Take photos of any damage. A photographic record is useful when making insurance claims.
- Make temporary repairs to prevent further loss from rain, wind or looting; these costs are reimbursable under most policies, so save the receipts.
- Make a detailed list of all damaged or destroyed personal property. If you have a home inventory, it will be extremely useful here. Don’t throw out damaged property until you have met with an adjuster.
- Don’t rush to sign repair contracts. Do your homework, deal with reputable contractors and get references. Be sure of payment terms and consult your insurance adjuster before you sign any contracts.
- If your home is uninhabitable because of tornado damage, your homeowners or renters insurance provides coverage for additional living expenses (ALE) such as hotel bills or meals out. Save all related receipts and, if you have vacated your home premises, make sure your insurance representative knows where and how to contact you.
- Talk to your insurance professional if you have any questions about any part of your insurance coverage.
The Bottom Line: Stay in contact with your insurance company, document everything, and hang onto all your receipts.
“Your insurance company is there to walk you through the claims process, so ask for their guidance and follow the procedures,” McChristian says. “They’re in the business of taking care of people in their time of need.”
For additional guidance, the Insurance Information Institute has more information online about settling claims after a disaster.
For updates about disaster relief in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and information about how you can help these efforts, go to RedCross.org.