The recent tornado has brought devastation to many Kentucky families, and my heart goes out to them during this difficult time. If you’re one of the many people who have lost their home or have damage to their home, I am so sorry that you’re going through this.
I can only imagine the stress and heartache that you’re experiencing as you try to figure out what to do next.
Losing a home not only involves grieving the loss of your belongings, but also involves grieving the loss of memories. So be sure to show yourself grace and compassion during this time as you work through those emotions.
It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by the thought of reporting the damage (and the subsequent paperwork that will be involved) when you’re working through the shock of what has happened.
I’ve put together a concise list that will hopefully help streamline that process, and reduce the stress on the technical side of things. If you’re a home owner and you have home owner’s insurance, it’s important to make a claim right away so that you can get the coverage that you need.
If you’re unsure how to approach it, here is a checklist that includes helpful tips and suggestions:
1.) If your house has been damaged, document the damage, and report it to your insurance company immediately. Take photos and videos of anything that needs to be repaired: your roof, broken pipes, water damage and mold, and anything else that was damaged by the tornado. Send the photos and videos to your homeowner’s insurance company.
Your insurance company will most likely need to come do an in-person inspection of all the damage, but with proper evidence and documentation, they may be able to expedite your claim.
To prevent further damage to your home in the meantime, you can make reasonable temporary repairs, but don’t make permanent repairs until you’ve been directed to do so by your insurance company.
Be sure to keep the receipts for items that you purchase in order to prevent further damage (i.e. purchasing a dehumidifier for a flooded basement in order to prevent mold, etc.).
Remember: When filing a claim, document everything!
2.) Find a reputable contractor to obtain an estimate of the damage. This could speed up the process if the insurance company is unable to do an inspection right away.
Providing them with photos, videos, and an estimate of what it would cost to repair the damage might even allow you to bypass the inspection altogether if the adjuster has enough details from the documentation that you send.
Please be aware of scams regarding storm damage repairs. Only use licensed and insured contractors, and be sure to check references. Also, don’t give a contractor any money upfront.
Your insurance company has to provide written consent to do the repairs, and when they do, you should get a written agreement from the them stating that they will reimburse you for the full amount that was quoted by the contractor.
Additionally, be sure to obtain a written contract/agreement from the contractor before the work starts.
As a side note, in regards to estimating damage, that may also include food that you will have to throw away due to power loss. If you don’t have electricity, and you have a freezer full of food, your insurance policy might cover that, so be sure to provide that inventory, and ask if that will be covered.
3.) When you file your insurance claim, be sure to ask about the A.L.E. The A.L.E. (aka ‘Additional Living Expense’) claim will provide coverage for temporary lodging (such as hotels and trailers) if your home is too damaged too live in, or if the entire structure is no longer there due to the tornado.
If you and your family don’t want to stay in a hotel, and you have an extended family member or friend who has offered to let you stay with them right now, some insurance carriers also provide funds that you can give to your generous host.
Those funds would be used by your family or friend to cover the extra cost of food, and the added expense on their electric bill and water bill (and any other utilities), since those costs will go up with additional people living in their home.
4.) Be sure to put all requests in writing. Whether it’s an email or a letter, be sure to send all requests to your insurance company in writing.
Even if you talk to an insurance adjuster over the phone, be sure to log that phone call (write down the date and time), and also send an email to the claims department summarizing what was discussed.
When you’re making a request to your insurance company, be very clear in what you’re asking for and what you need, and also explain why you need those things.
For example, if you have two deep freezers full of food that you lost, be sure to plainly state that you would like a reimbursement for the food since all of it is now spoiled, and provide them with photos and a total estimate of what that food was worth.
5.) If your insurance company is giving you a hard time, you have options. If your insurance company is refusing to cover things that are supposed to be covered under your current policy, be sure to ask to speak with a supervisor, or even a regional manager if necessary.
Don’t be afraid to go up the ‘chain of command’ if you’re not getting the help that you need.
Even though this is frustrating, try to remain calm, and kindly state that you are trying to work collaboratively with the adjuster, but are being denied coverage for damage that is included in your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Be sure to log these phone calls, and also send letters and/or emails stating the date and time that you called, the name of the person you spoke with, and why you called.
If you’re still not getting anywhere with your insurance company, you can call the Kentucky Department of Insurance. They are a government agency, and you can file a complaint. There are three ways that you can file a complaint (online submission, fax, or regular mail):
> You can fill out an online form electronically (which is the fastest, easiest way). Click here to get started.
> You can print out a paper form, fill it out by hand, and then fax it to (502) 564-6090. Click here to print the paper form.
> If you would rather mail the paper form (instead of faxing it), send it to this address:
Kentucky Department of Insurance
Division of Consumer Protection
P.O. Box 517
Frankfort, KY 40602-0517
If you have questions, you can call them at (502) 564-6034, but please note that they do not take verbal complaints over the phone. All formal complaints must be in writing (via the online form or the paper form).
If your home has been damaged, but you’ve had a lapse in your insurance coverage, or your policy doesn’t cover all of the damage that has occurred, please know that there is still hope. If you’ve incurred a substantial amount of debt due to the tornado, there are ways to get help.
You may also be eligible for financial assistance from the government or from non-profit organizations depending on your financial needs.
If you try those options, and find out that you are not eligible, or that their assistance won’t cover all of your debt, bankruptcy might be a viable option to protect you from being sued by your creditors — and it would also help you discharge your debts to get a fresh start financially.
If you want to ask questions about any debt that you have as a result of the tornado, I can provide a free assessment to help you. You can text me or call me directly on my cell phone at (502) 435-2593. I am available 7 days a week from 8 am to 8 pm EST.
As you continue to work through this difficult time, please know that there are people who care, and who can help you. If you need emotional support, you can call or text ‘The Disaster Distress’ hotline at 1-800-985-5990, and you can click here to get more information from their website.
Remember to take things one day at a time — you will get through this. Together, we are Kentucky strong.
All the best,
Tracy L. Hirsch
Kentucky Bankruptcy Attorney
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