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Opinion: Insurors are first responders for those hit with property loss

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This year has been a roller coaster of disasters and catastrophes across the United States. Individuals and businesses alike have been impacted by COVID-19 in some manner, which has taken an emotional toll on everyone. Now compound that with the unexpected, such as car accidents, slip/falls, injuries at work, fires, water damage and, yes, natural disasters.

For nearly every disaster, fire, closed business, damaged vehicle and home or farm loss, a call for help is made from a troubled policyholder looking to be made whole by redeeming their insurance. The people who answer and process these calls for help serve as first responders at insurance companies. If you have ever had an insurance loss, you know there are multiple emotions taking place, more than ever with the emotions everyone is feeling due to COVID-19. These first responders need to gather the information from their policyholders while understanding the emotional strain and frustration that their customers are dealing with.

This year, perhaps more than ever, the professionals adjusting the claims for all insurance companies across the U.S. are truly exhausted. They too have been impacted in some manner by COVID-19 and are faced with a record number of losses this year. Many field claims representatives have been handling catastrophe losses since March, including in our own backyard with the hail losses we experienced this spring. As you drive around the Springfield area, you may notice many homes are still awaiting repairs as contractors are backed up and there is not enough material to keep up with the demand.

Imagine:

• California has had 4 million acres burned by wildfires, which is twice the record set in 2018.

• Severe storms with hail and wind have ripped across the Midwest and Plains this year.

• There have been a record 11 named hurricanes that have struck the U.S. this year.

• There are fewer active field adjusters available, both at the company level and independents, due to retirements and other fears of interactions due to COVID-19.

We are truly facing the perfect storm.

So whether you are a business or an individual thinking about the insurance loss that you have had or may have in the future, what should you be considering?

First, always engage your insurance agent or company representative to understand how your policy will work. No one wants to find out after a loss that their policy is not going to protect them the way they thought. It is a good idea to have an annual review on your policy with your agent or company to discuss your concerns about potential losses that you think could happen in order to understand your coverage, exclusions, deductibles and any other limitations.

Make sure that you maintain your property, as insurance policies are not likely to cover a known maintenance issue. This means things like regular cleaning of gutters to prevent back up of water, replacing/updating/repairing worn out equipment, cutting back or down dead trees/limbs, and securing items that could become projectiles during a wind storm event.

If you believe you have a loss, promptly report this to your insurance company. Quite often after a natural disaster there are individuals who want to wait to report their losses to their insurance company to be courteous to their neighbors who have had more damage. This actually is not helpful, as the insurance company would prefer to get into a neighborhood/community and see all of the potential claims and damage on properties they insure than have to return weeks or months later. It is not uncommon to have catastrophe representatives flown or driven in from other states to assist in an event as we saw in Springfield with the hail earlier this year.

Make sure you ask plenty of questions to get the peace of mind of knowing you understand how the claims process will work from your insurance company. At times, we in the industry have handled thousands of similar losses and we forget that this may be your first experience. It is very important that you as the customer know what is expected of you and what to expect from your claims professional to get your claim resolved.

Finally, please understand that the claims professionals I have worked with for the past 30 years across the United States from different insurance companies are committed to doing their job professionally and helping their customers. An insurance policy is a promise and it is the responsibility of claims professionals to deliver on that promise. They recognize every claim involves a loss and an emotional impact. They truly are there to help. They are also individuals with families and are experiencing their own impact from COVID, so please understand that this is a trying time for all of us.

Please continue to be safe. We will get through this together.

Jeff Mills is a senior vice president at American National Insurance Co. and the executive vice president and chief claims officer at American National P&C Cos. He can be reached at jeff.mills@americannational.com.

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