It is no secret that insurance policies are confusing: they are long – often 40 or more pages – and contain vague language that can be unclear and difficult to understand, even for the most educated people.

After large scale natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, insurance companies and their adjusters frequently rely on vague and confusing insurance policy language to support their improper denial or underpayment of claims. This is a source of great confusion and frustration to people who have already gone through the devastation of a disaster.

What most people don’t know, and what most insurance companies don’t tell people, is that they can challenge the insurance company’s (or its adjuster’s) assessment of the damages. As always, people can turn to an experienced insurance attorney, but there are also steps people can take before they may need an attorney. These steps help ensure that a policyholder has done everything they can to protect their claim, and hopefully, will enable policyholders to help themselves before they may need to involve an attorney.

It’s important to know that the insurance policy contains the duties and obligations that each policyholder should follow, however, these tips may enable someone to challenge the insurer’s assessment before they need to involve an attorney.

  1. Keep Copies of All Correspondence to and from the insurance company and its adjusters or agents in writing.
  2. Take Photographs of the Damages throughout the property – if possible, capture photos of water lines, missing shingles, water pouring in through the ceiling, damaged contents and all areas of the property with damages.
  3. Find a trusted, reputable, licensed contractor, builder, estimator, or public adjuster to write a detailed room-by-room estimate of the damages and repairs needed.
  4. Be the squeaky wheel – send follow up correspondence in writing to the insurance company and adjuster.
  5. Be specific (as best as you can) – provide examples to the insurer/adjuster in writing of how they underpaid (e.g., “the adjuster paid $1.53 per square foot of carpeting, but as indicated on the attached paid invoice from my flooring company, carpeting was $3.03 per square foot”).

Make sure the insurer and adjuster know that you do not agree with their estimate or assessment of the claim. Send them copies of the documents mentioned above – send these documents to them via email, mail, fax, or a combination of the three.

Remember, that many insurance policies contain specific timelines and deadlines, which if not met, can affect rights and remedies that policyholders may be entitled to. Therefore, it is important to be vigilant. If all else fails, and the policyholder reaches the end of their rope, or simply does not think or believe they can get proper claims payments on their own, it’s time to contact an attorney experienced in handling insurance claims.