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Catastrophe Risk Management

FAQs for Surviving Hurricane and Flood Losses

Robin Olson | September 1, 2023

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Road closed because of high water

The insurance industry is built on preventing disasters and assisting people in responding to them when they do occur. We recognize during these trying times that our industry helps with lives and livelihoods, and we have consolidated tips and frequently asked questions to help affected homeowners, agents, and other property owners who should take immediate steps to begin recovering their losses. This matter is more complicated and challenging given the enormous impact of hurricanes and floods during this century.

Two important points to remember is that your flood damage claims will likely be handled by one insurance company (assuming you have this important coverage), and your wind damage losses will be handled by another insurance company.

IRMI offers a host of insurance tips that individuals, corporations, and small business owners affected by these deadly hurricanes and floods can use. The following are some frequently asked questions and available resources about property and auto insurance matters to consider. Please note that the IRMI and Vertafore ReferenceConnect publications referenced below require a subscription fee. Contact IRMI at (800) 827–4242 for access.

If I am an IRMI subscriber, can you provide online links to relevant information regarding hurricane and flood insurance losses?

The following are links to some discussions in Personal Risk Management and Insurance that pertain to hurricane and flood coverage and claim situations. The homeowners and personal auto links pertain to the Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO), forms.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

The following are some links in Commercial Auto Insurance that pertain to physical damage coverage to commercial vehicles under the ISO business auto policy.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

The following are links to some discussions in Commercial Property Insurance that pertain to hurricane (under the ISO commercial property forms) and flood coverage claim situations.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

Does IRMI have discussions for subscribers related to claims and claim filing tips?

The following are links to some IRMI discussions related to claims situations.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

When should I contact my insurance agent or insurance company about my property damage?

If you have—or suspect that you have—property damage to your home, business, or automobiles, notify your insurance agent as soon as possible with whatever details you can provide. In most cases, your agent will have a toll-free phone number for you to contact your insurance company directly. Make sure the adjuster understands that this call serves as notice of your claim. A follow-up email confirming such notice is also in order. Keep a written log of whom you talked to, their title, the date, action items, and the gist of the discussion. This log is important if you later face problems or delays and need to substantiate your side of the story.

I can't remember whether I have flood insurance. How do I find out for sure?

Ask your insurance agent if you purchased this coverage. Once you have determined that you have this protection, notify the insurance company that services your flood insurance policy. Keep your policy number handy when you call this company. You can also reach the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) directly at 1 (800) 621–3362. The following is a helpful FEMA website that gives details on how to file a flood insurance claim.

What if I have a flood loss but no flood insurance? What resources are available to help me?

Unfortunately, the vast number of people in many areas impacted by hurricanes do not have flood insurance. And several recent hurricanes have destroyed large swaths of homes and businesses in many areas that were NOT in a high-risk flood zone. Impacted people and businesses without flood insurance may be eligible for low-interest loans from the federal government. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) is responsible for providing affordable financial assistance to homeowners and renters located in a declared disaster area. Homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 in low-interest loans to repair or replace their primary residence to its predisaster condition. More information is available on the SBA website; see the link below.

In addition, FEMA offers extensive information on its disaster assistance program; see the link below.

A flooded neighborhood

Does my personal or commercial auto policy cover flood and wind losses to my vehicles?

Flood and wind losses are covered under the personal auto policy or business auto policy as long as you have purchased other-than-collision (formerly called comprehensive) coverage for the vehicle. Check your declarations page or call your agent to determine if you have this coverage, which is typically subject to a deductible.

car submerged in flood waters

When should I inspect my home or business?

Caution is urged here; you should not return to your property until municipal authorities have declared the area to be safe from downed power lines, heavy debris, and high water. You can call 311 to see if it is permissible to return to your home or check your commercial property. In addition, access your county's emergency management website for updates and the status of your neighborhood. Many sites also have information on towed vehicles.

What about my additional living expenses or business interruption expenses?

If you have a windstorm loss, the standard homeowners policy provides additional living expenses, which are often 20–30 percent of your dwelling limit. So, keep track of your additional expenses, such as hotel rooms and restaurant charges. Unfortunately, if your loss is solely due to floodwaters, additional living expenses are not covered under the NFIP. These expenses may be covered if you have private flood insurance.

Note that FEMA does offer "critical needs assistance." This aid is a one-time $500 payment per eligible household for those with unmet critical and financial needs. Details are available at the link below.

For businesses suffering a windstorm loss, a commercial property policy can, and often does, provide coverage for resulting loss of income or increased expenses. However, the NFIP flood insurance policy does not provide coverage for business income and expense losses resulting from a covered flood loss. In some cases, coverage for business interruption or extra expense resulting from a flood is added to a nonstandard commercial property policy, even when the flood damage itself is insured under the flood insurance policy. In those cases, a relatively high deductible (such as $100,000) usually applies. Also, the ISO commercial flood insurance policy includes a time element coverage option that provides business income and extra expense coverage if a limit is shown in the declarations.

If my wind coverage is through a state property insurance pool or association, what are some tips for filing claims?

Your agent will be able to tell you whether wind damage is covered under your homeowners or commercial property insurance policy or through your state's wind or property insurance pool. The links below to various state windstorm or property insurance association claim pages each provide tips for filing wind damage claims.

What if I am dissatisfied with the claims process? What are my options?

First, make sure you are providing all the information and documents your insurance company requests in a timely manner. Also, keep a well-documented log of the entire claims filing process. Items to remember in the log are the (a) measures you have taken to assist your insurance company, (b) information you provide, (c) adjuster names and titles with whom you are interacting, and (d) dates of discussions. If you have problems or unreasonable delays, ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. Another option to consider, prior to hiring an attorney, is contacting the appropriate state department of insurance to file a formal complaint (this is free and often helpful). See the insurance complaint sections of various state websites at the links below for more details.

How do I go about finding a reputable contractor to repair or rebuild my home or small business?

Consider the following tips for homeowners or small business owners when hiring contractors.

  • Be wary of contractors who solicit business door-to-door or via cold calls. In addition, contractors should be avoided if they quote a price that will automatically go up the next day or week if the property owner does not accept it immediately.
  • Request recommendations from friends, family members, and business associates for reputable contractors who have performed excellent work for them.
  • Ask the contractor for a written estimate that includes any oral agreements they make in this process. The estimate should contain a line-by-line breakdown of costs, including materials and labor. In addition, there should not be a charge for an estimate. Avoid dealing with contractors who attempt to charge for estimates.
  • Obtain at least three estimates along with the names and phone numbers of two former customers of the contractor. The property owner should contact these customers and ask about the work performed.
  • Verify that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and properly insured. Obtain certificates of insurance for workers compensation and general liability policies from the contractor.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if complaints have been filed against the contractor. This step can be performed via the BBB's website.
  • Avoid contractors who ask for payment for the entire job before the work begins. The standard practice is to pay 33 percent of the job up front.
  • For major work, get an experienced attorney to review the construction contract.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.