And Why Is The Carpet All Wet, Todd?: Don’t Be a Margo, Stay Prepared for a Holiday Season Insurance Claim

Winter travel usually brings cherished time with family and other loved ones. But, getting a call that your Christmas tree has caught fire or coming home to find that an ice-spear has broken a window and destroyed your stereo are sure to ruin any trip. While you can try to avoid these or other more likely disasters, sometimes it is out of our hands. If something terrible does happen while you’re away, you’ll probably file a claim under your homeowners,’ renters’, or other property insurance policy. But what does that look like and how can you make it as easy as possible?

North Carolina law requires that all fire insurance policies state the insured’s obligations when a loss occurs, commonly called the “Duties After Loss.” They vary from one policy to another, but commonly require that you make the property available to your insurer for inspection, that you provide requested documentation on the claimed loss, and that you generally cooperate with the insurer’s investigation. Failure to do so may jeopardize coverage under your policy.

When adjusting a loss of personal property, the insurer is typically looking for the lost item’s age and value and for evidence that it existed just before the loss. A record of that information will make the insurer’s job easier and may help your claim move faster. Understandably, most people don’t document every item they own. Keeping such a list would be overwhelming and endlessly tedious. However, you may benefit from documenting your large and expensive items like furniture, TVs, computers, appliances, jewelry, designer apparel, and firearms. They are easier to track than smaller items like clothing or kitchen utensils and will cost you much more to replace.

A receipt is usually the best form of documentation because it shows the date and price of your purchase. If you don’t have the receipt anymore, consider photographing the item and its serial number. This number can help your insurer determine the item’s age and original cost. The serial number is typically on a sticker somewhere on the item, like the back of a TV or the door frame of an appliance.

This documentation also applies to the residence itself. If you have renovated your home or made improvements over time, those improvements may not be reflected in listing photographs or other available records. Keep receipts and invoices from construction work to show the cost and quality of the materials in your home and take photographs of the completed work.

Moreover, it’s best to keep your record on a digital, cloud-based system, such as Google Drive, so it won’t be damaged in the event of a loss. When you purchase a new “big ticket” item, take a photograph of the item and the receipt, then save them to the cloud. Now, that information will still be available even if the residence and/or its contents are catastrophically damaged.

Finally, a last-minute catch all can confirm the current condition of the property. Just before you leave for your trip, consider taking a video of your home. Walk from room to room documenting the condition of the residence and its contents. Then, save it to the cloud in case you lose your phone or camera on your trip.

Although we can take steps to lower the risk of a loss, they are not always preventable. If you find yourself in this unfortunate scenario, this documentation can help you comply with your policy and provide your insurer with the information it needs to process your claim as quickly as possible.

The information contained in this article is of a general nature and is not intended as, nor should it be relied upon for, legal advice. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

About the Author

Patrick T. VanderJeugdt

Patrick is a member of Young Moore’s litigation team where he focuses his practice on matters involving general commercial litigation, construction law, insurance coverage analysis, insurance defense litigation, and employment and labor law. Read more

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