Hurricanes are devastating. If you’re a home or business owner whose property has been affected by a hurricane or other storm or disaster, here are some tips on how to file an insurance claim.

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Make a list of damaged property

The first thing you should do is take an inventory of your home or business. On a pad of paper or your smart phone, note which parts of your property were damaged. Do the same for your valuables like your television, car, major appliances, and furniture. Taking pictures or video is a great idea. Having a visual record will help the insurance claims process move more smoothly.

If you’re able to locate receipts for any of these items easily, do so at this time.

Check your insurance policy

The scope of your coverage will determine how much of your property damage may be covered when you file a claim. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Damage covered by homeowner policies: Some damage from hurricanes may be covered by your policy, whereas other types may not. Standard homeowners insurance covers damage from a falling tree, for example. But hurricane and flooding damage can be trickier.

Many standard policies will make a distinction between the two types. Hurricane damage is usually defined as heavy rain being blown through windows or broken windows, satellite dishes, or other debris damage from high intensity hurricane winds. Flood damage, unfortunately, is often not covered as its often a separate policy. You’ll need to check your insurance documents to make certain.

What to do if you don’t have flood insurance: Because Sandy has been declared a disaster by President Obama, you should be able to get help with your flood damage (as well as any other federal disaster assistance you might require). Assistance usually takes the form of loans or grants. Here’s a detailed list of government resources.

Hurricane deductibles for homeowners: All insurance policies have a deductible, which is the amount of money you’ll need to pay before your insurance provider starts to cover your claim. For homeowner policies, this is typically $500 or $1000. However, many companies will use a percentage based system when hurricanes are involved. Your policy should have details about this on the policy’s “declaration” page. The Insurance Information Institute has additional information about hurricane deductibles.

Auto policies: If you car was damaged by debris---such as a falling tree---or water, your auto policy may cover that damage, especially if you have more comprehensive insurance.

Don’t do too much cleaning

Though it may be tempting, note that you should not make any permanent repairs to your property. Don’t throw out damaged property. Your insurance adjuster will need to see your situation and make an offer for a payout, so making repairs or discarding ruined furniture could dramatically affect your claim.

If you do need to make repairs, make them temporary repairs and take pictures first. In other words, if you have a hole in your roof or broken windows, cover them to prevent further damage, but don’t do extensive work. Those damages will likely be covered by your policy if you sit tight.

Submitting your claim

Insurance companies often work on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it’s in your best interest to file an insurance claim as quickly and as accurately as you can.

That said, each insurer is different and has its own set of rules for how you must submit your claim. Call or email your personal agent or, if they’re unavailable, contact the company itself. Note who you’ve spoken with and brief them to the fullest extent possible. Let them know you’ve made an inventory of damages and tell them whether you’ve relocated to a hotel, friend’s house, or government shelter. An insurance adjuster will then come to your property, assess your damages, and determine the size of the payout.

Patience and diligence are important throughout the claims process. Make notes and take pictures. Recovering from a disaster takes time, but being smart up front can make the whole situation a little more manageable.

Next, learn what to expect after filing an insurance claim. 

Get started Ask a Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day

Get started Ask a Lawyer a Question You'll hear back in one business day