Unfortunately, tornadoes, hail, wind, and other natural disasters are part of life in South Dakota. However, South Dakota law requires insurance companies to pay claims promptly and for the full amount covered by the policy. However, getting an insurance company to pay your full claim can sometimes be a difficult experience. Here are twenty tips on how to best handle a South Dakota natural disaster insurance claim.
BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES
1. Organize your important insurance documents
Place all your insurance policies (home, auto, etc.) in an accessible file that you keep year after year. Whenever you speak to an insurance company representative about changing your policy, make sure you take careful notes and keep these notes in this file.
2. Organize your property ownership records
In that same file, place a copy of your other important financial documents - deeds, mortgages, or any other property ownership records.
3. Document your property and belongings
Use a camera to take pictures of the inside and outside of your home, yard, automobile and any other valuable items.
AFTER DISASTER STRIKES
Here’s what to do to make sure your insurance company pays you what you're entitled.
4. Read your insurance policy and know your rights
Insurance policies are often very complicated. However, try to understand as much as you can about (a) what your policy covers; (b) what is excluded; and (c) what you are entitled.
5. Contact your insurance company to make a claim
Don't delay in making your claim. Contact your insurance company right away (in writing) and let them know you have suffered a loss.
6. If you lost your insurance documents request a replacement copy
Ask your insurance company for a copy of your policy and the Declarations Page.
7. Take video or pictures of your damaged property
Pictures and video will help you prove your losses to the insurance company.
8. Take detailed notes
Every time you call, write, or visit with anyone from the insurance company, get their name and phone number. Write down when you talked with them, what you said, and what they said.
9. Get everything in writing and keep a copy of your paperwork
You should always try to get everything in writing. Then make a copy of everything you sign and/or send (e-mail, regular mail, etc.).
10. Keep a receipt of every dollar you have to spend because of the disaster
For example, if you are forced to leave your home, keep records of your food, lodging, and clothing expenses.
11. Try to protect your remaining property to prevent further damage
Do what you can - without jeopardizing your safety - to prevent further damage or losses. For example, contact your utilities company to shut off water and gas. Your insurance company might not cover damage that you could have reasonably prevented after the disaster.
12. Make a detailed list of your damaged items
Don't leave anything out. File a claim for every item. You won't get compensated for any items that you don't make a claim.
13. Estimate the value of your damaged or destroyed property
Estimate (a) what your property would cost to replace and (b) what your property was worth before it was damaged. Why these two different numbers? Your insurance policy may offer different kinds of coverage. If needed, contractors can provide you with an estimate.
14. The insurance company will appoint an adjuster to handle your claim
The adjuster is paid by your insurance company and works for the company, not for you. Also, the adjuster is most likely not an expert on your policy and may not know what it covers. If you think the adjuster is making a mistake, you can reject his estimates and demand another evaluation.
15. Have your valuables independently appraised
For any antiques, art work, or other "high value" items, you should consider getting your own appraisal to compare with the insurance company's assessment.
16. Get your insurance company's approval before you make any repairs
Don't start repairing or replacing your property without your insurance company's approval.
17. Take your time
Don't be pressured into agreeing to "low ball" estimates or repairs. Take the time to review the insurance company's proposed settlement and decide whether it's fair to you.
18. Do not sign releases or waivers until you know your rights
If your claim is undisputed, you should not have to sign a release. If the insurance company asks you to sign a release, find out why and be careful about signing away your rights.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A DISPUTE WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
19. Be prepared to fight for a fair settlement and get help if you need it
If your insurance company is not offering a fair settlement, you can try to resolve the dispute yourself. But if the dispute is a serious one, or you cannot resolve it, contact a lawyer. Many lawyers will work on a contingency basis. This means that you don't pay the lawyer anything unless he succeeds in helping you get what you are owed. Insurance companies can be forced to pay extra money - called punitive damages - if they intentionally deny you a fair settlement.
20. Insurance fraud is a serious crime
Never make a claim for property that you did not own or intentionally inflate the value of the property. Be honest!