Tornado Damage and Insurance Claims: 8 Important Tips

By: Lisa DoVale-Fonseca, CISR, CRIS, PWCAM

I’m passionate about providing the best possible experience I can for my clients. Lisa has worked in the insurance industry for over 30 years.

Questions about tornado damage don’t come up very often in Massachusetts, but when they do, they need immediate answers. In the wake of the storm that affected so many on the Cape this week, here are a few tornado damage FAQs we wanted to share:

  1. Investigate how your home insurance policy responds to tornado damage.

Tornadoes cause many different types of property damage. The biggest problems are often fallen trees and fractured roofs. But other issues—e.g. detached awnings, spoiled food, broken outdoor equipment, etc.—can also add up to significant costs. Your home may be uninhabitable, which means you have to stay in a hotel and or dine out temporarily.

Individual insurance policies address these losses differently. Here’s a general primer on “does insurance cover tree damage and tree removal?” Here’s another on wind deductibles and coastal home insurance. Even if you weren’t affected by the recent tornado, it’s a smart idea to ask what your policy does and doesn’t cover. You may want to make informed changes to coverage limits or endorsements.

  1. Document tornado damage with photos and/or video.

If it’s safe to do so (i.e. there are no tree limbs or power lines dangling above), take photos and/or video of any affected property—inside and out. While it may be tempting to start your cleanup at the dump, hang onto any materials you will seek to have replaced (fencing, shutters, lawn furniture).

  1. Document business losses.

Do you own a business that was affected by the tornado? Get the scoop on best practices when filing a business interruption claim.

  1. Be proactive: take steps to prevent further damage.

Your insurance company doesn’t expect you to re-shingle your own roof, but if there’s a gaping hole, they do expect you’ll take “reasonable steps” to prevent further damage. Draping a tarp overhead might be a viable solution—assuming it is safe to do so. When in doubt, call your agent and ask. If you need to seek emergency repair help while waiting for a claims adjuster, be doubly sure to take photos beforehand and save your receipts.

  1. Be persistent, but patient: claims adjusters are often overloaded after a tornado.

After a major storm, claims departments are busier than Best Buy on Black Friday. Granted, needing help with tornado damage is far more important than snagging a deal on the latest flat screen. But it’s always important to remember your manners. In our many years of experience working with insurance companies and claims reps, you’ll definitely catch more flies with honey.

  1. Ask for answers in writing.

You deserve immediate answers. And for many people, the simplest, fastest way to get them is via telephone call. However, the process of requesting repairs and getting reimbursed for them is exactly that: a process. It helps to have a documented thread of who said what is going to happen and when. Email can be incredibly useful when you need to go back and reference a time, date, name, etc. If you’re not in the habit of using email, you may want to create an account and use it for this purpose. Ask your agent and carrier to send all communications via email.

  1. Shop around for local contractors.

Don’t settle for just one quote—especially if you’re number 19 on the list of jobs in your area. (Contractors will prioritize the worst cases first.) A smart place to start your search is on the website of a local trade organization, like the Mass Arborists Association Member Directory , the North/East Roofing Contractors Association Member Directory , or the Massachusetts Chimney Sweep Guild’s Directory (for help with chimney damage). Companies that pay their dues in order to be members of these groups are typically the most invested in following the industry’s best practices, including safety and ongoing employee training.

  1. Be wary of unlicensed, uninsured contractors.

Don’t get talked into working with a disreputable contractor (roofer, arborist, handyman, etc.). Be wary of anyone knocking on doors after a storm, especially if the “company” doesn’t have a verified physical location or any online information. Never agree to pay cash upfront. Insist on getting all job specs (scope of work, pricing breakdown, and materials) in writing.

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association offers this advice for anyone in need of contractor services following a major storm: Be careful about unscrupulous contractors following a natural disaster. Contact your insurer, agent or local business bureau for references on potential contractors… Ask for certificates of liability and workers compensation before signing contracts.

Are you dealing with tornado damage and not getting satisfactory answers? Feel free to reach out with your questions (even if you’re not a C&S client). We understand times like these can be extremely stressful. We’re happy to help, however we can.