So, your property has suffered a loss and now you’re about to deal with the arduous insurance claims handling process. Stop right there. Before you do anything, get ready to document your experience. It will help you later on.
In some cases that make their way to an attorney, the insured and/or public adjuster provide only the minimum of information regarding the property insurance claim. Then there are others, where the insured actively participates in the process, promptly sends over all necessary documentation, and includes a comprehensive timeline of the events regarding the claim. Being responsive to your attorney’s questions and creating a timeline of the events and people will only benefit the client because it will aid the attorney in understanding the full story when fighting for rightfully owed insurance proceeds.
Gathering all documentation is already such a hassle—adding on an additional step of creating a timeline might be more time-consuming and redundant—but, it will be worth it in the long run.
The Benefits of Creating and Keeping a Comprehensive Timeline of Events
First, the claims handling process can be long. There will be times in which you are asked, “who was the adjuster that came out to your property on X?” or, “what date was the insurance company supposed to come out to inspect the property?” Since the accident might have happened months ago, you may not remember. If you had been keeping a timeline, you would know the answers to all these questions, which will not only help the public adjuster/attorney involved in the case, but will help the insurance company in its inspection of the claim.
Besides streamlining the claims handling process and answering important questions about the property damage, creating a timeline will also substantiate the claim. Bringing an insurance claim and engaging in litigation is expensive and requires a lot of involvement. Insurance companies want as much detail and specificity as possible regarding the claimed damages. Avoid giving them the opportunity to argue that your claim is unsubstantiated due to lack of factual support. The more detail your timeline contains, the easier it is to pinpoint the issues and understand the full picture, rather than figuring it out from a generalized statement.
Creating a comprehensive timeline can help validate your claim and avoid denial. In Edwards v. State Farm,1 the policyholder submitted an insurance claim and after State Farm had denied benefits, the policyholder sued for breach of contract.2 The court found that State Farm was justified in denying his claim because the policyholder failed to respond to several requests, which asked for documentation of repairs and proof of the amount of money spent on them.3 The claim was unsubstantiated because there was a lack of proof regarding the repairs and extent of damage of the property.4 If the insured had kept a comprehensive timeline once Hurricane Frances damaged his property, he would have had a much easier time substantiating his claim and giving notice of the events, dates and costs regarding the inspections and repairs.
What Exactly Should I Do?
You should always respond to documentation or photo requests from the attorney. Begin creating your comprehensive timeline from the minute you discover the property damage. The medium you use does not matter—it can be an email, a physical letter, an audio file. Provide the story from start to finish and include:
- Names of everyone involved in the claim. This includes the adjusters and investigators. Also provide the names of any additional people involved in the claim such as the moving/cleanup company, electricians, roofers, and others. If you live in an apartment complex or condominium you rent, include the name of the person or company who owns and/or manages the property.
- Dates of inspections, changes in property or ownership, and communications. Yes, it might be bothersome to record the date of communications, but these dates will be important to help substantiate your claim. As far as records of inspections, mention how long the adjusters were there and what parts of the property they investigated.
- The address of the damaged property and if applicable, the address of your temporary housing.
- Any other details you believe may be important to understanding the claim, including any damaged personal property. What were the items of clothing that were ruined as a result of the roof leak and subsequent mold damage? Remember, tell your story!
We recognize the insurance claims handling process is stressful. It is even more stressful if it ends up in litigation. When the time comes (and hopefully it doesn’t) to file a property insurance claim, be prepared. Maintaining a comprehensive timeline of the events can reduce your stress.
(Note: This guest blog is by Anthony Orlando, a law student clerking in our Tampa, Florida, office)
1 Edwards v. State Farm Fla. Ins. Co., 64 So. 3d 730, 731 (Fla. 3d Dist. App. 2011).
3 Id. at 733.
4 See id. at 733-34.