5 Factors to Consider for Catastrophe Claims


5 factors

A property destroyed by fire following Superstorm Sandy in the Staten Island borough of New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)


Some aspects of claims are easy to overlook in the rush to service insureds. When a major catastrophe hits, it is frequently an “all hands on deck” situation. Some adjusters are seasoned professionals, veterans of multiple catastrophes. They understand the delicate balance of managing an overwhelming workload while serving the interests of all stakeholders in the process.

For adjusters who have never worked a major catastrophe or done a lot of flood claims, it can be an overwhelming experience. Imagine stepping into a wasteland where damage and destruction are visible for miles in every direction.

Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, as well as other major flood events provided some important lessons for all involved in the adjusting and restoration process. Documentation will be critical for both policyholders and adjusters. What does the policy cover? What damage was sustained? What can be replaced and what can be restored? What training is necessary ahead of time? And how to we adjust claims efficiently and effectively? Here are five factors to consider when adjusting catastrophe claims.

1. Maximize technology

“When disasters occur, both natural and man-made, we always stress to our insurance customers the importance of having the right technology applications available to be able to perform their jobs, regardless of the disaster,” says Jennifer Mangino, industry manager for the insurance solutions group at Hyland. “Something we ask insurers is, ‘If a disaster occurs, will you and your representatives have the information necessary to provide superior service to your customers and claimants in their time of need? Will you be able to access data and collect the information needed to process the claims in a timely and accurate manner?’

If the answer is no, it's time to reevaluate your current technology strategy to embrace the tools needed to become more efficient and deliver better service. Often this means embracing mobile and cloud applications, such as enterprise content management (ECM), to pull all relevant documentation and data needed while adjusters are in the field. More of these solutions are including off-line capabilities so that adjusters can pull the documents they need and fill them out while in the field. Then, as soon as they can establish an internet connection, the system will sync with their claims system at the home office with the updated and accurate information. This creates a nimble environment for the insurer to process claims faster, giving their customers more timely payments on their claims.”

2. Understand the estimating programs

At the recent Xactware Users Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company's CEO, Mike Fulton, highlighted some of the changes the company is introducing as part of its latest Xactimate rollout. In order to make the program more accessible in the field, the company is introducing a version that will work on tablets and other mobile devices, and load faster than any of the previous options.

“Adjusters have a huge impact on how satisfied the insured is with the claims process and the insurer,” said Fulton, “and Xactware is working to improve the tools and information it provides to endusers.”

Understanding how to use the estimating software and what information is needed to provide a complete estimate is crucial to creating accurate claims that can be closed quickly and fairly for all involved.

3. A picture is worth thousands of words

Attorneys frequently say that if something wasn't written down, it didn't happen. The same can be said of securing proof of damage or a loss with either photos or video. Digital cameras and even cell phones can capture crucial components of a loss. This is especially critical since adjusters cover so many losses following a CAT event and it's easy to forget what was observed.

“Photographs should be taken of all sides of the risk and the surrounding area, as well as in every room,” recommends Jeff Major, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Canopy Claims Management. “Each room should have general photos of the room, each showing at least two walls, and then from the other side of the room,” he says.

“Additional photographs of each room should show the types of finishes and construction materials as well as damage, and contents photographs should be taken with special attention to unique and high- or low-value items. As many CAT adjusters only visit a risk once, having a vast quantity of photographs can answer questions during estimate entry, inventory review and in addressing concerns or questions with insureds or file reviewers. Since claim file submissions usually contain a limited quantity of photographs, it is a good practice for adjusters to have and keep a flash or jump drive for each CAT that they work which contains excess photographs in individual files.”

Capturing photos of any undamaged areas can be just as important, especially if a questionable or seemingly unrelated claim is filed later.

Floor plans of the property will also help identify where damage and contents are located, and provide some context when the adjuster is creating the loss estimate.

4. Don't forget the small stuff

When walking a loss, it's easy to overlook some of the smaller things like valves and hoses for gas lines; the wax ring, shut-off or supply line valves and toilet seat for a toilet; or the hinges and hardware for a door. Don't forget to include these types of items in the estimate. They may seem like small things, but they are an important part of getting the insured back to a pre-loss condition.

Also consider things like how debris will be removed, the costs for having a dumpster delivered and removed, and be aware of the impact issues like curfews and local licensing ordinances can have on costs and response times. Whatever is removed will probably have to be replaced, so both aspects should be included as part of the estimate.

5. Play it safe

Adjusters are exposed to a lot of dangerous elements following a flood. Some are easy to see, but many are not. When it comes to water, Major says adjusters should not walk through fast or moderate moving water, or water they can't see through. “Washed away ground or holes under the surface are tripping hazards, and the suction or pressure of small drains can pull someone under shallow water,” he cautions. “Water moving under parked cars or structures can pull someone down and trap them under the water.”

Adjusters should be aware of their surroundings when entering an area – looters and other factors could pose a risk to their personal safety. Individuals who have not worked a major catastrophe should know that a city's infrastructure could be severely compromised by flooding, affecting everything from services like food, gasoline and hotels to washing away roads, signs and other identifying landmarks.

In addition, flood waters can uproot wildlife from their natural habits, posing a risk from snakes and other venomous creatures. After Hurricane Katrina, dozens of snakes had to be removed from the Notorial Archives before workers could enter the premises to remove files and begin drying out the building.

“Have a buddy system,” recommends Jason Coleman, vice president of Virginia-based Jenkins Restorations. “Let another adjuster or contractor know where you are going and when in case you run into any trouble.”

Adjusters are there to serve an insurer's policyholders, but that places them at great risk in some areas. Using common sense and taking practical precautions will help protect against a wide variety of dangers and ensure they are able to help insureds recover more quickly.

Originally published on PropertyCasualty360.

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