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Catastrophe Risk Management

FAQs for Surviving Tornado Losses

Robin Olson | November 1, 2019

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Large city in the background with a tornado

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 home owners, agents, and other property owners who should take immediate steps to begin recovering their losses. This matter is more complicated and challenging, given the impact of tornadoes during this century.

IRMI offers a host of insurance tips that individuals, corporations, and small-business owners affected by tornadoes 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 tornado losses?

The following are links to some discussions in Personal Risk Management and Insurance that pertain to tornado/windstorm coverage and claim situations.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

The following are some links in Commercial Auto Insurance that pertain to physical damage coverage to commercial vehicles.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

The following are links to some discussions in Commercial Property Insurance that pertain to tornado/windstorm coverage and 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, his or her 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.

Tornado Damage Through Town

Does my personal or commercial auto policy cover tornado/windstorm losses to my vehicles?

Tornado/windstorm 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.

House Leveled Tornado Damage

Does my personal homeowners or commercial property policy cover debris removal due to a tornado/windstorm loss? What about the damage to my trees and landscape?

The homeowners policy provides coverage to insured property (e.g., your roof) caused by trees downed in a tornado. Most of these policies also pay reasonable expenses for debris removal of covered property (e.g., shingles and siding). Most policies also pay for reasonable expenses up to $1,000 for the removal of your trees, with certain restrictions. In contrast, there is no coverage for the loss of the trees or bushes themselves due to wind or a tornado.

Here are links to information on coverage for wind damage to trees in Personal Risk Management and Insurance.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

On the commercial side, a standard commercial property policy provides coverage for damage to insured property caused by trees downed in a tornado. However, there is no coverage for the cost of removing the debris of downed trees or replacing the trees unless it has been added by an endorsement. While the outdoor property coverage extension grants some limited coverage for trees, shrubs, and plants, it applies only to loss from fire, lightning, explosion, riot or civil commotion, or aircraft.

Here are links to information on coverage for wind damage to trees in Commercial Property Insurance.

IRMI Online Subscribers

Vertafore ReferenceConnect Subscribers

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 and heavy debris. 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 tornado/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.

Note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does offer "critical needs assistance" if the tornado is declared a disaster. 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 tornado/windstorm loss, a commercial property policy can, and often does, provide coverage for resulting loss of income or increased expenses.

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

First, make sure you are providing all of 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 home owners 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 he or she makes 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.

What are some additional disaster relief resources available?

The following are links to some further disaster relief resources you may find helpful.

Car Flipped Tornado Damage

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.