As discussed in my previous blog post regarding the tropical storm watch issued for parts of Long Island because of Hurricane Jose, as soon as damage is discovered, it should be reported to the insurance company, even if you think it is minor and not something that the insurance company will bother with.
I can’t tell you how often cases arise where a small water spot is seen inside, and then months later, when it’s discovered there was damage to the roof, and significant repair is needed, the insurer disclaims coverage claiming that the insured waited months to report the claim.
As always, the first step is to read the policy so you are aware of your insurer’s requirements when reporting a claim—typically found in a section titled “duties in the event of loss or damage.” The typical New York Policy requires an insured to give “prompt notice” of the loss or damage. New York Courts have interpreted “prompt notice” to mean “notice given within a reasonable time of the discovery of loss under all the circumstances.”1 (If you’ve ever debating whether you want to hire an attorney, keep in mind that an attorney will argue the meanings of “prompt” and “reasonable time” so you don’t have to.)
You might think, no problem, I just discovered I needed a new roof yesterday when my ceiling tiles collapsed, but remember that little water spot you discovered several months earlier? There’s a good chance the insurer does, and depending on the language of the policy, and if any repairs have been made prior to the insurer’s inspection of the property, it’s a policy provision available to the insurer to disclaim coverage.
This is a problem easily solved if you report the claim to the insurance company as soon as you realize there is damage to your property.
1 Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Cos., 748 F.2d 118 (2nd Cir. 1984).