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How COVID-19 Has Changed Hurricane Damage & Loss Claims

How COVID-19 Has Changed Hurricane Damage & Loss Claims | Insurance Lawyer

What You MUST Know About Filing Hurricane Claims During the Pandemic

Predictions for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season were upgraded from “above normal” to “extremely active” in early August. That means experts are now predicting 7 to 11 hurricanes and 3 to 6 major hurricanes.

According to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, these predictions are “one of the most active seasonal forecasts that [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks.”

In the midst of the pandemic, this extremely active hurricane season has created what some experts say is a “perfect storm” for potential disaster. From evacuations and emergency response to relief and recovery efforts, the aftermath of a hurricane in the age of COVID-19 could present far more complications and challenges for affected individuals, businesses, and communities.

That’s why military COVID planners at NORTHCOM have started calling this “perfect storm” COVICANE.

As unnerving as the possibility of COVICANE may be, for many, there’s still time to prepare when it comes to hurricane damage and loss claims.

Why Has COVID-19 Impacted Hurricane Claims?

Insurance companies have changed some of the ways they handle, review, and process hurricane damage and loss claims during the pandemic largely due to:

  • Health concerns: Many insurers are prioritizing social distancing to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission among staff, as well as between staff and policyholders. While this has meant work-from-home operations for many insurance companies, it also led some to embrace new tools to minimize the need for in-person interactions with policyholders.
  • A sharp influx of insurance claims: Before the 2020 hurricane season even kicked off in June, Lloyd’s of London predicted underwriting losses of at least $100 billion from the pandemic alone. These devastating losses parallel the 2005 losses from Hurricane Katrina, as well as the 2017 losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Ultimately, this means insurers have been exceptionally busy, flooded with claims, well before any hurricane claims have been submitted.

3 Ways COVID-19 Has Impacted Hurricane Damage & Loss Claims

Here’s a look at how the above (and other) factors may impact COVID-era hurricane claims filed by individuals and businesses.

1. Longer Wait Times

The surge in coronavirus-related claims has made insurance companies busier than ever. From business interruption to general liability and beyond, COVID insurance claims have increased remarkably in recent months. For many insurers, this has inundated their adjusters, several of whom are also adapting to new work environments, processes, and/or systems while working remotely.

With just one major hurricane, the situation could get even more challenging for insurance companies, flooding them with another wave of claims. Ultimately, for those filing hurricane claims, that could mean even longer wait times at every phase of the process.

2. Virtual Claim Submission

To streamline claim submissions and limit the need for site visits, some insurance companies are offering online options for submitting claims. With these, policyholders can use special apps, portals, and/or other virtual tools to complete the necessary paperwork, upload photos, electronically sign documents, and more.

3. Minimal In-Person, On-Site Inspections

Insurers’ use of digital tools is not limited to claims submission in the age of COVID-19. Those filing hurricane damage and loss claims should also anticipate a virtual element beyond the claims submission stage.

In fact, unless there’s an emergency or a complex situation, many insurance companies are instructing their staff to minimize in-person contact and, instead:

  • Video chat with claimants: While speaking directly to policyholders, adjusters are using video chat to see damage in real time. Some are even using mobile damage estimate tools to provide estimates virtually.
  • Conduct virtual site visits: Along with the use of drones, some insurers are using specially designed photo tools that provide step-by-step directions for photographing hurricane damage.

7 Essential Tips for Filing Hurricane Damage & Loss Claims During COVID-19

Given how the claims process has changed during the pandemic, here’s what you can do to prepare yourself for these changes and protect your rights as you file and advance your claim.

1. File a Hurricane Loss Claim as Soon as You Can

Don’t put off filing a claim, even if you are unsure of the extent of your losses. The sooner you file your claim, the sooner you’ll be “in line” for processing. In light of the extended wait times for claims, you may have a little time after filing to gather the additional documents or items you need to establish your losses.

Also, it’s important to note that policies covering hurricane damages and losses may have certain deadlines for filing loss claims after a hurricane. Although extensions may be available, the longer you wait to request an extension, the more challenging it may be to get one.

2. Don’t Assume Virtual Tools Get It Right

As sophisticated as modern technology is, things can still go wrong. That has the potential to create issues like:

  • Uploading failures and system crashes
  • Photographs and/or videos not fully depicting the extent of the damage
  • Glitches or bugs potentially compromising information submitted with your claim

Ultimately, that can mean virtual tools end up providing inaccurate estimates. So, always take a closer look at the details of virtual estimates. Ask questions and request a site visit or a second opinion if needed.

3. Mitigate the Damage

Pandemic or not, most insurers will likely still require you to mitigate the damage to the extent possible. This means taking steps to limit further damage, like by, for example, putting tarps or boards over broken windows or moving items to upper floors (to prevent additional water damage).

So, do what you can to prevent additional damage. And make sure you document the efforts you took—and when you took them. These records can be invaluable later if you need to show proof of what you did you mitigate the damage.

4. Keep PPE On Hand

If an adjuster or anyone else will need to visit your property, they’ll likely be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and it’s a good idea for you to do the same. In fact, consider keeping an extra set of PPE around in case others, like contractors, may need to visit your property as well.

5. Keep Everything

This includes all paperwork, videos, and/or photos submitted with your virtual claim. It should also include:

  • Pieces of damaged items: Furniture, pieces of carpet, and small electronics are just some of the things that can help show damage beyond what photos or virtual tours may show. So, keep some of the damaged items if possible. If you need to dispute an estimate, these items may be helpful evidence.
  • Emails: Confirmation emails, correspondence with adjusters, and any other emails should all be saved. Consider creating a special folder for these files so you can easily access them in a single place.

The emails, documents, and items you keep can strengthen a hurricane claim. They may also prove helpful if your claim is undervalued or wrongly denied in the future.

6. Be Prepared for Pushback

Insurance companies will likely be more vigilant about payouts and profits as 2020 continues, given the estimated losses to date from the coronavirus alone. For those filing claims, that can translate into an even more challenging battle with insurers, lower settlement offers, or even unfair claim denials.

Consequently, it’s more important than ever before to:

  • Anticipate that insurers will push back as much as possible on paying valid claims in full
  • Second guess insurance company’s offers and decisions

7. Talk to an Insurance Lawyer

An attorney can provide the advice, guidance, and representation necessary to set hurricane damage and loss claims up for success. With that additional challenges these claims can face in the age of the coronavirus, a lawyer can be an invaluable ally, helping you protect your rights when it’s time to recover.