A friend recently had a fire at her home.  Fortunately, no one was injured.  It did cause lots of damage and has left our circle of friends all pitching in to untangle an insurance claim.  Few things in my legal career have been as frustrating as insurance claims.  The following should help if you ever have a claim.

1. The best place to start in avoiding problems is choosing the right agent.  When you shop for insurance, ask the agent about the claims process.  How long does it usually take to get back to you?  Ask details.  How much do I have to do myself if there is a fire or crash?  Will the company help me find the appropriate repair people if I want help?  Will the agent be involved at all?  An agent’s answers to these questions should give you an idea of their real knowledge and cooperative attitude.  If they do not know any of these answers – find someone more seasoned.  I always recommend someone local so they are near if you have a problem.

2.Read your insurance policy BEFORE you have a claim. This applies to your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance as well as auto.  Read the policy and ask the agent or company any questions you have in advance.  Then, put the policy somewhere  you will be able to find it.  The last thing you want is to have the insurance company deny your claim and have no idea how to verify what they say about your policy.

3.If you have an accident, fire or other loss and make an insurance claim, your claim will be assigned to an adjuster.  This adjuster works for the insurance company.  Remember, the less they pay you for your claim, the more money the company makes.  The adjuster generally does not have the final word on the value of your claim.  You can, and should, negotiate with them.  Be prepared to give them facts, not opinions.  “That does not seem fair” is not a statement that will interest most adjusters.  However, saying, “I have a receipt for the new lawnmower that was lost in my garage fire” will be helpful.

4.If you experience property damage that will require re-construction, I highly recommend working with a contractor who has previously worked with insurance companies.  This person may consider clean up or construction details that you may not.  Furthermore, they will likely be able to communicate effectively with the insurance company.

5.Despite some hassles along the way, most people get an appropriate amount of money to cover their insured loss.  If this does not happen, seek the advice of an attorney as a last resort.

This column does not seek to provide legal advice.  Neither Tommie Jo Marsilio nor the Villager are providing legal advice to readers.  This column is for education and entertainment only.  The advice of an attorney or other professional should be sought regarding any individual situation or legal question.