Proper Procedure of Homeowner Insurance Adjusters for Handling a Water-Damage Claim

Hurricane Sandy's winds and water devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012.
i Ramin Talaie/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Even careful homeowners who keep their property in good condition can be forced to file insurance claims for unavoidable water damage after household accidents or natural disasters. The process of putting your home back to rights starts with the adjuster who visits your property to review the extent of the repairs it requires. Depending on how much time she needs to prepare her report, you may receive payment in a month or wait longer for assistance.

Water Damage

Water from leaky or frozen pipes or an overflowing washing machine can necessitate expensive repairs and trigger other problems, including the development of mold. After you report water damage to your insurance company, the insurer sends an adjuster to your property to inspect it and begin the process of compensating you for your loss. The adjuster may ask you to call a contractor or other source of repair services and obtain costs for correcting the damage, or she may send someone to provide an estimate. Because this adjuster represents the insurance company, not you, she may authorize less than the amount you expect. If the offer you receive doesn't match estimates you obtain yourself, you can hire an independent adjuster to assess your problem and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.

Flood Damage

Unless you purchased separate coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program or your homeowner's insurance policy includes an additional rider, you won't succeed in filing a claim for water damage triggered by a flood event. An adjuster who reviews your property in light of the coverage a regular policy provides will exclude payment for damages caused by flooding. If you do have flood insurance, an adjuster should contact you within 24 to 48 hours after you report a claim. During her initial visit, the adjuster scopes your loss, photographing and measuring the scene to provide evidence of its condition. She completes a Proof of Loss that details how much your coverage will pay in repairs. Once you sign this document and return it to your insurance company, you can receive your claims payment.

Catastrophic Events

If you file an insurance claim after an overflowing toilet damages your bathroom floor, you can expect a prompt, timely response from your insurance company and an adjuster's visit shortly after you report your loss. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the sheer number of claims that insurance companies must handle and the volume of work assigned to each adjuster can delay the process well beyond the response you receive in routine situations. Insurance policies typically stipulate that you must retain damaged property so the adjuster can review it. After a catastrophic flood, however, your local government may require you to clear away debris. Photograph anything you must discard and keep samples of damaged materials, such as floor coverings or wallpaper, so you can show them to the adjuster.

Other Considerations

From state to state and disaster to disaster, the qualifications required to serve as an insurance claims adjuster can vary dramatically, as the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a study of wind and flood damage released January 30, 2008. This variance can become even more pronounced after a large-scale event such as a hurricane or flood. If you question the amount that an adjuster recommends to settle your claim, seek independent help to verify the cost of repairing or replacing your home before you sign paperwork or receive compensation. After you agree to the amount the adjuster offers, you'll have difficulty obtaining additional payments unless you discover additional covered damage.

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