Churches and non-profit organizations play a vital role in rebuilding efforts following a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina, churches raised millions through donations to feed, house, and equip volunteers helping with clean up, as well as to buy and develop affordable housing across Southwest Louisiana.
But beyond raising money from their congregants, many people of faith feel like a fish out of water after a natural disaster. Navigating the complex bureaucracies, including private insurance companies, that finance recovery efforts is overwhelming to say the least. Specifically, many church-goers have an understandable aversion against “going after” insurance companies.
However, the faithful also need to remember that they are the stewards of their congregants’ donations, many of which have gone toward paying insurance companies. And as such, you have a responsibility to ensure that insurance companies honor their word.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to achieve a positive outcome, without “going after” anyone. All you have to do is follow these five steps to keep your values intact and your insurance agents honest.
1. Know Your Policy and Your Rights
The first and most crucial step you can take to protect your organization is to know your policy and your rights. Your policy includes details such as what is covered, how to file a claim, how soon a claim must be submitted, and what process your insurance company uses to assess damage and determine reimbursement amounts.
Take some time now to review your existing insurance policy and know what’s expected if and when you need to make a claim. Create a step-by-step plan and make it easily accessible to anyone in an administrative position, so you can get started on your claim quickly after the next storm.
Equally important to knowing your policy is knowing your rights in case of a dispute. Your rights will be detailed in your policy, but you may also want to talk to your agent, insurance provider, or state regulator. When you know your rights, your insurance company will take notice.
2. Keep Immaculate Records
When you need to make a claim, the condition of your records is vitally important. You’ll need to be able to show the replacement value of the building as well as everything that is permanently attached (e.g., pews, audio and visual equipment, and large appliances). Additionally, you’ll want to keep an updated inventory list of all business and personal property that is not part of the building.
In the event of a hurricane, it can be difficult to verify what is missing. So having a list with values for each piece of property is key. Store a copy of your list along with photos or video off site. This will ensure you have access to these vital records after a loss, even if other church records get destroyed.
3. Hire a Pro
When do you need to hire a professional to help manage your insurance claim? Small, straightforward claims usually settle easily. But in cases where there is more at stake — both for you and for your insurance company — disputes are more likely to come up.
Such situations include:
- Claims where you and the insurance adjuster don’t agree from the start
- Expensive or complex claims
- Large claims, such as building damage after a hurricane or extensive water damage
In these circumstances, organizations are more likely to need legal help. If you believe you have an insurance claim, it’s always best to contact a lawyer before speaking to your insurance representative. So if you believe your claim might be disputed, reach out to a lawyer early on for a free initial consultation.
Another good strategy is to contact a public insurance adjuster who can work with you to complete your paperwork, meet deadlines, and be an advocate for your organization. You can also file a complaint with the state department of insurance.
Many churches feel a certain pressure to hire professionals from their own organizations. This is not always a wise choice. First, property casualty is a specialized area so a lawyer with expertise in this area (as opposed to a passing familiarity) should be sought. Second, avoiding members of a congregation or board members can also serve to remove the internal politics that sometimes arise and ensure that the Church receives true, objective advice.
4. File an Appeal
If your claim gets denied, you can start by writing a letter to the claims adjuster to appeal the decision. Explain your point of view including any evidence that supports your side and request the adjuster review your claim.
Request a response within a certain timeframe, say, 10 business days. To maintain a record of communication, you can send your letter certified mail. You should also send a copy to the adjuster’s supervisor. Remain polite and courteous, but firm.
5. Be Persistent
In worst case scenarios, getting an insurance company to honor their word can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. The vast majority of cases are straightforward and most claims are handled ethically by insurance providers. But it’s good to remember that insurance companies are looking out for their own best interests first.
When challenges arise, churches and non-profit organizations do need to stay on top of their insurance providers. Insist on frequent follow-up calls and thorough documentation of the entire process. This is one place where being persistent absolutely pays off.
As hurricane season approaches, your organization needs to prepare for the worst. Follow these five steps, so you can get back to what you do best: being a faithful servant of the Lord.
Galen M Hair, Owner at Insurance Claim HQ, is a property insurance attorney who has helped six large churches rebuild and over 800 families rebuild homes and businesses. He has been rated a Super Lawyers Rising Star, and voted one of National Trial Lawyers Top 100. Click here to learn more about protecting your property from disaster: https://insuranceclaimhq.com/new-orleans-hurricane-damage-lawyer/