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Insurance Questions?

Basics for Homeowners

On the third night after Hurricane Irene, I went to bed feeling a little bit dramatic. We still had no power, and the neighbor with the really, really loud generator prevented sound sleep. Our 3-year-old had reverted to waking two times a night to inform us, via bloodcurdling scream, that it was D-A-R-K in her bedroom. We were all tired. And cranky. And wanting power.

But you know what? We were the lucky ones. A power outage was the extent of our worries, while others struggled with downed trees and damaged homes. And while we had thrown away a considerable amount of food, neighbors just down the street were facing massive construction costs and couldn’t even remain in their homes.

If you happen to have suffered damage from a hurricane, you may be able to recoup some of your losses via your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Here’s what you need to know:

First things first: Contact your insurance agent. If you suffered damages and still have not reported them to your insurance company, do so immediately.

Certain natural disaster damages may not be covered under your policy. Basic homeowner’s insurance does not usually cover flood damage. In the case of wind or hurricane damage, policies may have separate deductibles. Hurricane coverage varies wildly, so check with your insurer.

If contents of your home were damaged, you may be entitled to relief. Most basic policies cover actual cash value, but more comprehensive plans may cover full replacement costs. Create a thorough inventory of your losses, take pictures of your damages, and keep receipts of any replacement items purchased. Antiques and valuable jewelry often require additional coverage, so check with your provider.

Food spoilage may be covered. If you lost a refrigerator or freezer full of food, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may pay out for your losses. Call your insurer.

Damage from fallen trees is usually covered. If a neighbor’s tree fell on your property, damaging your house, the claim would fall under your policy, and vice versa. A fallen tree that causes no damage to your house, shed, fence, or other structure is not generally covered. However, there may be limited clean-up coverage if the tree fell and is blocking a driveway.

If the settlement offer does not cover the cost of repairs, don’t give up. Call and try to work with a representative of your insurance company. If you still meet with unsatisfactory results, contact the State Corporation Commission Bureau of Insurance or an attorney specializing in insurance law. The Bureau of Insurance provides free complaint services to all Virginia residents. Call (804) 371-9185 for more information.

Turns out, camping in our own house wasn’t quite the adventure I imagined, but we were truly lucky. A friend of mine who helped elderly neighbors while she cared for her 3-year-old and newborn, summed up her five days without power like this: “We live in a privileged time and place.” Perhaps Irene can serve as a reminder to utilize all of the resources at our fingertips, and to prepare for the next storm on the horizon.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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