As summer unfolds, we are likely to see tropical storms develop along the coast that can bring hot moist air, as well as heavy winds and rain. These conditions can also cause tornados to develop, like the tornados that formed and struck west Pensacola and Pensacola Beach on June 16, 2023 and the Walton County area, Destin, FL on June 19, 2023.
As insurance attorneys who have been helping homeowners with their windstorm claims for decades, we can share some important steps you should take if you have suffered tornado damage to your property:
1) Report Your Tornado Loss to Your Insurance Company Immediately
Once you have ensured you and your family are safe and the severe weather conditions have subsided, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the tornado loss. The sooner you report the damage, the sooner the claims process will be initiated and the insurance company's investigation will begin, improving the chances that critical evidence that supports your claim can be documented and preserved. You can learn more about the process of filing an insurance claim here.
2) Document the Damage to Your Property
We always advise policyholders to document the condition of their property with photos and video before a storm strikes. This process is equally important after your property has suffered damage to help you prove what damage was caused by the storm. After a tornado strikes, you should take plenty of photos and video to document the damage the tornado caused to your home, its exterior and interior, as well as the surrounding structures (garage, shed, guest house, fencing, pool, patios, screen enclosures, etc.). Save this evidence on your computer or a hard/cloud drive so you can easily submit it to your insurance company to document your loss. You can download and use our free After the Storm Guide to help you document your property damage and itemize your lost contents.
3) Take Necessary Steps to Prevent Further Damage
If winds from the tornado have compromised your home—i.e., broken windows, doors, or damaged your roof allowing rainwater to enter—to the extent you are able, take steps to put up tarps, plywood, or other coverings to prevent further water from intruding. Most insurance policies require you to take steps to mitigate your damages, meaning, take the steps a reasonable person would do to prevent further damage to the property. However, you should not make permanent repairs—i.e., replacing windows, doors, or flooring or making structural repairs—until you have discussed those repairs with your insurance company. You can learn more about the difference between temporary repairs intended only to prevent further damage and permanent repairs here.
4) Save all Receipts for Storm Related Expenses and Temporary Repairs
Storm-related expenses that you incur after the tornado are often reimbursable by your insurance company. It is vital to keep all of your receipts for the costs you incurred that were a direct result of the storm. These may include supplies (tarps, nails, etc.) you buy to make temporary repairs or prevent further damage, debris cleanup, as well as additional living expenses you incur if you are displaced from your home as a result of the tornado damage (hotel, fuel, food, etc.). Always keep your receipts and accurate records, no matter how inexpensive the item may have been, and submit these to your insurance company.
5) Understand the Insurance Claim Process
Know that it will often take a good deal of time, months typically, for your insurance company to investigate the damage to your home, estimate the cost to repair, and begin to issue you funds on your insurance claim if they find the damage is covered. You will be required to open your property up for a field adjuster to come and inspect the damage. If you can be present during the inspection, you should try to attend. You are also permitted (and we encourage policyholders) to record the inspection. This will help keep all parties accountable and preserve the events that transpired during the inspection. Once your insurance company estimates the cost to repair and issues an initial payment or denies all or a portion of the damages, know that you can (and should) dispute their decision if you do not agree with it.
6) Get a Professional to Help You With Your Insurance Claim
Most homeowners are not experienced with filing insurance claims and do not understand how the process works and the steps insurance companies often take to protect their interests. The best thing you can do when filing an insurance claim is to bring a professional on board to make sure you are taking all the right steps and actions to protect your claim. At TWWH, we never charge any fee, cost, or obligation to simply review your claim and discuss your options with you. Contact us for a free insurance claim review. Our experienced attorneys have been through the process hundreds of times. We know the insurance company's playbook, and we're here to help you.