by Mark Goldwich
The fire, flood, hurricane or tornado that descends on a community is one kind of disaster that’s easy for the victim to recognize as such. Even an isolated event, like a pipe leak or a theft can be disastrous to a business or homeowner. The difference is those kinds of disasters are easy to recognize as such and most people realize that they must be prepared for them.
What happens to the people who then try to secure the insurance compensation they’re entitled to is, all too often, another kind of disaster. And it’s that second disaster that nobody is expecting. Literally millions of people have been victimized by the second kind of disaster after having endured the first kind. The saddest thing about it is this: most victims of the second type of disaster do not even realize that this disaster has taken place.
Think about it. If you don’t know what is covered and why it’s covered ... or how to identify and estimate all the damages you’ve sustained … or how to determine what you should actually get paid … how would you know whether the insurance company was holding back when it came to compensating you fully for valid claims?
Even if you were to figure out the insurance company was, through error, oversight, or any other reason, not paying you all it should … you would still have to convince the insurance company that you were right and they were wrong. That is not something they are particularly fond of admitting.
If you believe, as I do, that one disaster at a time is quite enough, you’ll want to consider the following words very carefully indeed: There are three things insurance companies would rather you didn’t know that are very likely to happen after the disaster.
The first thing insurance companies don’t want you to know is that no matter how well you hold up your end of the bargain, there may be extensive delays throughout the entire claim process. You will find that your calls don't go through, or you will leave a message (either via voicemail or through a message service), that never seems to get returned.
This can go on for weeks or months.
Eventually, you may be informed that some other company is “handling” the job of sending an adjuster out to look at your loss ... and you may figure out that this company, in turn, has passed the job on to yet another company. This “hand-off” phase may continue until two, three or four layers of bureaucracy are built up. Then you will learn that an appointment has to be made, an estimate has to be written, a payment has to be approved – and you will see that each step brings additional, unexpected, and incomprehensible delays.
All the while, everybody you talk to will assure you that the delay and unresponsiveness is somebody else’s fault. But no one will take action to speed up the process. Time is on the side of the insurance companies, and they know it. The idea seems to be that if they can put you off long enough, you will quit, forget about the whole business, accept whatever they offer, or (quite literally) die before they have to pay up.
The second thing insurance companies don’t want you to know is they will often deny coverage for all or part of the loss. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the insurance company will report – often wrongly – that your loss is not covered. If you’re covered for
wind damage, they may say the damage was caused by water. If you’re covered for water damage, they may say it was caused by wind.
If you’re covered for both, they may say it was caused by a combination that they can’t cover, or they may say the damage was actually caused by something else. In my experience, the rule is a reliable one. Inevitably you will be told by someone, at some point in time that your policy covers less than you thought it did.
The third thing insurance companies don’t want you to know is that they can deflect responsibility for actually paying you. Your loss may, in theory, be covered ... but you may learn (perhaps long after the fact) that you didn’t document the claim as precisely as was required, or that the adjuster was unable to tell exactly what caused the damage, or that some other problem held up processing. Typically, you may learn that someone who seems to be an employee of the insurance company actually represents an entirely different organization. When you try to figure out who’s actually responsible for delivering on obligations to you, you may not be able to track anyone down.
Again, time is on the side of the insurance company. For a shockingly large percentage of these situations, the deflection of responsibility results in people with valid claims simply walking away from the situation.
You may find out about these problems when it’s too late to do anything. You’ll listen helplessly as somebody from the insurance company explains how they wish they could pay you, but they can't because of the lapse in time (a window that nobody told you about), because of the company’s policy, because of some obscure regulation, because of a recalcitrant boss, or because of some equally creative explanation. It’s not their fault; they can’t do anything about it.
This is real. This is not something I’m making up. This changes peoples’ lives, and not for the better. It’s hard to express the level of frustration people feel when a claim is delayed, especially for such (seemingly) inexplicable lengths of time. People have other things going on in their lives. They often have medical problems. They could be moving. They have work issues. They may have family members who are in need of extra assistance. Whatever they’re facing, policyholders often reach a point where they just want to move on to the next chapter in their lives.
They get frustrated. They feel out of their element and overwhelmed by all the paperwork, all the questions, and all the details. They just do not want to deal with insurance companies anymore. They tell themselves that they really do not care how much they lose -- they just want to “wrap it all up.”
By an extraordinary coincidence, that mentality, and the delays that produce it, combines to keep the insurance companies from having to pay out a great deal of money.
People simply do not realize how much they are losing by voluntarily entering that “just wrap it up” phase of their insurance claim. All they know for certain is that they cannot stand the delay for another day. They want it over with. I can only suggest you hang in there and not give up. More importantly, the insurance companies don’t want you to know that it is your right to hire a public insurance claims adjuster that can fight for what is rightfully yours. Last but not least, you need to know that when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of fires and rainstorms and floods, you’re not in Kansas anymore.