When arguing with an adjuster over the value of your personal property claim, receipts can be an invaluable tool. But who keeps receipts? When dealing with theft or loss of property, you may actually have receipts; however in a total loss situation such as a fire, often the receipts are destroyed along with the property. Without fail, your adjuster will ask for receipts to determine the actual existence of lost property and the value. Under the basic homeowner’s policy, the insured has certain duties that must be complied with after a loss. Included in this is that the insured:
Prepare an inventory of damaged personal property showing the quantity, description, actual cash value and amount of loss. Attach all bills, receipts and related documents that justify the figures in the inventory;
An insured also has a duty to cooperate with the insurer’s investigation. This obligation is often read in conjunction with the requirement to produce receipts and other documents. The Washington Court of Appeals held a failure to produce requested documents is a breach of the duty to cooperate, triggering a denial in coverage.
We conclude that there is no real issue as to Herman’s obligation to cooperate with SAFECO’s requests under the policy and no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Herman cooperated in the investigation or settlement of the claim before SAFECO denied it on December 20, 1996. Her failure to cooperate, therefore, constitutes a breach of the cooperation clause as a matter of law.1
What the carrier cannot request is something you do not have. Review your policy carefully; nowhere does it say a claim can be denied if you do not have a receipt for your personal property. Failure to have a receipt is not grounds for an automatic denial, but it could trigger a further investigation, including an examination under oath. Whether you have receipts or not, you cannot ignore the request. New Jersey’s courts have held that an insured must seek declaratory judgment if they cannot or will not produce records:
Thus, we hold that an insured in these circumstances must promptly file a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of its obligation to produce the records demanded by its insurer under an insurance policy when the insured objects to their production. The insured may not wait to assert his rights until the eve of the expiration of the statute of limitations for filing suit to compel coverage. Such delay works too great a hardship to the insurer who must be able to promptly investigate the legitimacy of claims.2
If your carrier is demanding documents you can not or do not want to produce, speak to a qualified insurance attorney to determine your rights and the proper course of action.