1. Immediately report the property damage to your insurance company.
Under most insurance policies, an insurance company will provide emergency services if your home has sustained damage that requires immediate attention, such as water damage, wind damage or fire and smoke damage. If you do not immediately report the property damages to your insurance company, the insurance company will typically not send out an emergency services. Similarly, most Pennsylvania property damage insurance policies include provisions that permit a property damage insurance company to deny a claim if the loss is not timely reported.
2. Assess the damages.
It is important that immediately after the property damage loss, you write down notes on what was damaged, how the damages occurred and where you first noticed the damages. You should also take photographs of any of the damaged property prior to attempting to clean up or repair your home or business.
3. Take immediate action to protect your property from further damage.
Most Pennsylvania property damage insurance policies include provisions which require a homeowner or business owner to protect the property from further loss and a policyholder's failure to do so, can lead to the denial of the claim. This goes hand in hand with immediately reporting the claim to your insurance company.
4. Retain competent contractors or other professionals to assist in the valuation and evaluation of the damages.
5. Locate or obtain a copy of your property damage insurance policy including all endorsements.
At its core, property damage insurance is meant to place the policyholder in the same position that they were in prior to the date of the loss. Often, a disagreement will arise between the property damage insurance company and the policyholder concerning the value of the damages (valuation) and/or the cause of the damage (evaluation). Retaining a competent contractor at the onset of your claim to prepare an estimate of what it will cost to repair the house or business to the condition it was in prior to the loss many times makes the difference between a policyholder being adequately compensated for their loss and being unable to afford the cost of the repairs to their property. Too often, policyholders rely on the insurance company assigned adjuster who may or may not be familiar with local building codes, materials and labor costs, which all affect the value of the claim. Property damage adjusters typically use a computer based estimating system to determine the cost of the repairs to the damaged home or business, which may not be reflective of the actual cost of repairs. In comparison, a competent contractor who is familiar with local building codes, material costs and labor costs will be able to more accurately determine the cost of repairs. The property damage insurance policy governs the sole rights and obligations between the property damage insurance company and the policyholder.
6. Communicate with your property damage insurance company in writing.
7. Request updates on the status of your claim.
The Pennsylvania legislature has promulgated a number of regulations that dictate how an insurance company is to treat their policyholders. The two primary sources of these regulations are found in Pennsylvania's Unfair Insurance Practices Act ("UIPA") and Pennsylvania Bad Faith Statute. Under UIPA a property damage insurance company is required to notify its policyholder in writing within thirty days of the submission of the claim as to whether they will provide coverage for the damages or not. In the event that the property damage insurer cannot make a determination as to whether they will provide coverage for the damages, they must notify the insured in writing and they are given an additional fifteen days to make a coverage determination. Because of the complexities of UIPA and the companion property damage insurance regulations, it is important that you contact an experienced property damage attorney.