When the World Comes Tumbling Down

by Mark Goldwich

Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
By now most everyone has seen the terrible images from central Italy, where a magnitude-6.2 earthquake struck in the middle of the night earlier this week. Small towns substantially damaged, hundreds of casualties, and many more wounded. While there have been some dramatic rescues, including a girl about 8 years old that was pulled out of rubble the day after the quake, at least 250 lives were lost. Compounding matters were the fact that the earthquake struck at night when most people were inside and sleeping, in buildings that were not specifically built to withstand this type of stress. Add to this the fact that at least one of the areas was busy with tourists, and this makes it difficult to accurately know how many people are still missing.

Image courtesy of commons.wilimedia.org
It is scenes like these that should cause people to take account, not only of all that they have, but of all that could be lost, from loved ones, to property, belongings, pets, if a sudden disaster were to strike without warning. It seems so distant when it comes to us via cable news from half way arount tha world, but events like this happen all too often. Right now there are wildfires burning out of control in California, incinerating homes and leaving virtually nothing behind.  There are floods devastating entire neighborhoods, and storms brewing in the Atlantic. All of these have, can, or will bring heartbreak and loss to hundreds or even thousands of people.  Yet there is only so much that can be done about it (and even less to prevent it).

In Italy, it is still very early on in the aftermath of the earthquake. I am sure there will be much discussion (and finger pointing) revolving around the construction methods, design, and engineering of the buildings that were destroyed. Hopefully, they can move past that point and quickly develop consensus on how these buildings will be repaired or replaced. Improved construction materials, methods, design, permitting and inspections can greatly impact the ability of structures to withstand whatever nature has in store.

Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
No matter the type of disaster, there are things that can be done to increase your chances for survival. For example, you can carefully research and choose where you live. In insurance terms, this is called risk avoidance. Terrified of tremors? Don’t live on or near a fault. Have a fear of fires? Avoid wildfire-prone areas. Scared of cyclones? Don’t reside in areas known as “tornado alley”. Frightened of floods? Pick a home on elevated grounds and far from large bodies of water. Harried by hurricanes? Move far inland, but hopefully not near a fault line, tinder-dry canyon, low-lying riverbank, or tornado area.

Let’s face it, no matter we live, we face some risk of widespread damage by a catastrophic event. The next consideration is to accept the possibility of loss, but to take steps to reduce the potential impact on your way of life. The applicable insurance term for this is risk transfer. Typically, this involves buying the appropriate insurance, and thereby transferring the financial risk from you, to the insurance company.

Impace windows courtesy of HomeRute
Along the way, you can do other things, like being sure your home is built to withstand various calamities as best as you are able. If you live in areas prone to storms, spend a few extra dollars to have wind resistant windows installed.  If in a low-lying area, homes on raised pilings are a plus. And of course, homes built to withstand earthquakes would be preferred if you live in areas that periodically experience earth tremors.

And finally, you need to take steps to minimize loss of life. Besides the steps mentioned above, this would include anything from living in areas known for early warning systems, well planned escape routes, and responsible civil authorities, to developing your own plans for escape (which should certainly include heeding evacuation calls), communication, regrouping, and subsistence, as well as having a well built and well stocked basement or storm shelter. Plans for all types of disasters abound freely on the internet, so it would be senseless not to take advantage.

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Nobody can guarantee a life free of natural catastrophes, but there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the likelihood, degree of impact, and overall consequences, no matter what Mother Nature has in store for you. Please keep our friends in Italy, and in Louisiana, and Colorado, in your thoughts and prayers and be proactive before the world comes tumbling down around you. 

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim. 

Your Vacation Checklist

by Mark Goldwich
Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Summer break is nearly over, but vacations happen year round, so it is never too late (or too early) to learn a thing or two that could really come in handy should disaster strike while you are away, from the perspective of an insurance claims professional.

First, be sure you have insurance to begin with, and that it is the right insurance for you and your property, with the right coverages, endorsements, and deductible. Whether you are going on vacation or not, you should meet with your insurance agent yearly, or you should review your policy carefully if you don’t have an agent. Why? As you might imagine, insurance policies differ from company to company, and each insurance company may also have policies that differ. Some policies are actual cash value only, meaning they will deduct for depreciation in the event of a loss, while other policies are replacement cost value, meaning they will not deduct for depreciation, but fully pay whatever it costs to replace what you had that was damaged, lost,  or destroyed. Even this is not consistent, in that some policies say they are replacement cost, but will only pay the full replacement value if you replace the item, and they will not pay actual cash value until or unless you actually replace the property first.

Image courtesy of pexels.com
Another consideration that needs to be made when researching insurance options is what I call “internal limits”. Most people understand their policies have overall policy limits for which their property is covered, like a limit for all items related to the structure, and another limit for all of their personal belongings.  However, some don’t realize there are usually internal or sub-limits for items, usually for personal property. For example, all your personal property may be insured for $50,000, but your policy may have multiple sub-limits for items like jewelry, cash, antiques, camera equipment, business property, stamps, firearms, silverware and goldware, watercraft, trailers, expensive rugs or tapestries, and even computers. Sometimes these limits apply only if the property is damaged under certain circumstances (like theft), and sometimes these limits apply regardless of what caused the damage.

In short, it’s important to have an idea of what these limits and circumstances are, and whether or not you can buy additional insurance to cover your property. Oftentimes you can, but unless you know what the limits are, how can you know whether you need to buy more insurance or a better policy? Early in my career as an insurance company adjuster, an associate and I inspected a claim for a theft loss that highlights this well. As we interviewed the homeowner, he explained that while he was out of town, thieves broke into his home and stole a number of items, including jewelry, cash, and designer clothing from his wife’s boutique. Other items were stolen and damaged as well, but the items listed above were all subject to relatively low internal limits.

The cash limit was $200, the jewelry limit was $2,500, and the limit for clothing used in his wife’s
Image courtesy of pixabay.com
business was $1,000. Normally, this wouldn’t be so dramatic, but in this case, the amounts he was claiming were extraordinarily high. You see, he was claiming the amount of cash stolen exceeded $200,000, the amount of jewelry exceeded $100,000, and the clothing exceeded $50,000 in value. We were shocked, he could probably sense in our questions that we doubted his story, but he assured us he could document and prove all the items and quantities being claimed. He even noted the money was still in the U.S. Marshall’s bags from when the money was recently returned to him. A strange claim, indeed! And to say he was upset about the shortcomings of his policy sub-limits would be an understatement – I was glad to make it back to the office alive! No doubt most people will never experience a loss of this magnitude, but it well illustrates the point of internal policy sub-limits, and the importance of being familiar with those in your policies.

And for similar reasons, it is crucial to have at least a basic understanding of all other aspects of the policy. Without this basic knowledge, it is impossible to know whether or not you have the right policy and endorsements for your needs. Once you are confident of your policy, you can be a bit more at ease when you leave for vacation.

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But just having the right policy is not enough. You need to have a plan as well. This can include how to prepare your home to make it less attractive to thieves, to be less susceptible to electrical and plumbing losses, and general life and home protection ideas, including a contact list to use in the event of some disaster, and a step by step strategy for beginning to deal with the claim remotely. I actually found some very good ideas and tips on insurance websites for www.Nationwide.com and www.Travelers.com (hey, just because I don’t trust those guys to help you after a loss doesn’t mean I won’t recognize any of their good works).

With a comfortable knowledge of your policy, a plan in place, and your home prepared, it’s time to pack your bags and enjoy your trip!

Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim. 

Public Adjusting Takes a Vacation

by Mark Goldwich

Image courtesy of flickr.com
Like many other Americans, this week the family and I are on our last vacation of the summer.  Vacation is a bit different for me as a business owner versus my decades as an employee for a large national insurance company. Back when I worked as an employee of the insurance company, I could just go. My job and the office would be there when I returned, but I didn’t have to worry about work while I was away on vacation. Now when I go on vacation, I have to be sure to take my phone and laptop (and chargers) with me, both of which allow me to communicate in various ways with coworkers, insureds, and others. With the systems we use, I can work virtually from anywhere, as long as I can connect to a network, or get Wi-Fi, without missing a beat.

In fact, just yesterday, as I was completing the last driving leg of our trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, I got a call from an adjuster I was expecting to hear from the day before, and in just less than 10 minutes at highway speeds, we were able to settle the claim. My insured, Ms. “P”, will be very happy. Ms. “P” suffered a water leak in April when the shower valve in her daughter’s bathroom sprang a leak in the wall cavity between the bathroom and the laundry room. They immediately shut off the water and called a plumber, who located and repaired the source of the leak. She then called a contractor who extracted the water and dried the structure. In the meantime, Ms. “P” got a closet-full of shoes out of her daughter’s room, and began drying and cleaning them. A few days later, the insurance adjuster showed up, and Ms. “P” said she could tell it was not going to go well from the start. The adjuster began by saying he needed photos of odd things, like the mailbox, and the exterior of the home (none of which had any damage or were related to the claim in any way). The adjuster suggested the water was leaking for “quite some time” and questioned the insured’s truthfulness regarding certain aspects of the claim.

Image courtesy of flickr.com
Sure enough, about a week later, the insured was officially told her claim would be denied because the insurance company felt the water leak was an ongoing maintenance issue that occurred for weeks or months, and not just hours or days as the insured had claimed. Fortunately for Ms. “P”, her water restoration contractor told her about me, and one month after the leak was discovered, she hired me to help recover on the claim. As soon as I saw the damages, exactly as the insurance company adjuster saw them, I knew with certainty the loss should have been covered. I took my photos, made some notes, and had an estimate prepared. The estimate was sent in to the insurance company with a request to meet with an adjuster (either the same one, or a new one). They sent a new one, about a month later. When we met back at the house, the adjuster acknowledged he was not familiar with the claim, or why it was not covered, but assured us he would consider it with “fresh eyes”. I remained sure the claim would be paid. Ms. “P” was encouraged, but not yet convinced. Until today, when I communicated (via email from 3 states away), the general terms of the agreement the adjuster and I came to in the car yesterday. He confirmed they agreed to fully cover the claim, and even agreed to the vast majority of my estimate, plus something to compensate the insured for saving and cleaning her daughter’s shoes.
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While on vacation, the TVs where we are staying are programmed to have the weather channel appear when the TVs are turned on. For most guests, I imagine this is so the visiting tourists can check the weather and plan their days. Of course, for me, I get to see where the storms are, and remain in “work-mode”. Today, for example, I see Tropical Storm Earl is heading for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and that Maryland is recovering from recent heavy flooding. So, while my family is at a local theme park, I am taking the day off from vacationing to catch up on some emails and write this blog. Tomorrow, though, it is back to family vacation fun, I promise – but I may need to take a work call or two, and check email and text every few hours. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love that I can help people any day of the week, no matter where I am!

 Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.