Given enough time, almost every business at some point will need to deal with a loss. Whether it comes from an accident, a storm, or any other source, you need to have a plan of action to respond. The most important thing you can do is to know your insurance coverage in detail. Have a complete inventory of all the property that is covered, with documentation to back up their asserted values. Follow these steps if you find yourself in this situation, and your business will be able to weather the storm.
As the business owner, you need to get started right away, and act promptly to deal with the loss. Here are a few actions you should take in the immediate aftermath:
- If anyone is injured, get help.
- Contact the police if there has been any criminal activity or an automobile accident.
- Survey the damage to determine whether you need to make emergency repairs.
- Put together all the information you have and contact your insurance agent or insurance company representative.
- Leave the scene intact; leave the property’s condition as you find it, except for any emergency repairs that you absolutely must make to minimize further damage.
- Document the damage with photographs.
- After your initial call, start preparing a formal explanation of your claim.
- Don’t talk about blame or fault for the incident.
You’ll need to get moving quickly, because most policies have a set timeline for reporting a loss. Check your policy to know for sure, but anywhere from 24 to 72 hours is common. You can file the official claim later, but make sure to report the loss within that timeframe.
Settle Your Claim
The next step is to reach an agreement with your insurance company’s adjuster. The adjuster inspects the damaged property and gathers information about what happened, the value of the property, and the procedures outlined in your policy. Working together, you will determine what actions you’ll take. You might be required to put together a detailed description of any damaged or stolen personal property, and the adjuster can provide a list of contractors approved by the insurance company to repair damage, along with specialty firms for specific damages. The adjuster will also have to reach an agreement with the contractor about what repairs are required and their cost, too.
This step should be quick and painless. When there are problems at this stage, it usually indicates that either you or the adjuster has incomplete information. Sit down and patiently go through the details to determine where the disagreements are and where they come from. Clear communication will usually resolve problems and make the settlement easy. If you still have problems, though, contact your insurance agent or ask to speak with the adjuster’s supervisor. There’s probably a set procedure for resolving differences in your coverage policy. If you’re still unclear about what to do, or if you think you’re being treated unfairly, you can always consult an attorney or even the state insurance commissioner’s office.
Your insurance company will have a lawyer ready to represent you if you have liability coverage, and the attorney’s costs usually don’t count against your liability limits (although you’ll want to check to be sure). Although this attorney will represent your interests, you’ll need to update them if you find that the liability involved could go beyond your liability insurance limits, if it’s possible that the case might involve an exception to your coverage, or if you don’t think a settlement is in your best interests.