Proving Your Hurricane Irma Personal Property or Contents Insurance Claim

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

What is a Contents Insurance Claim?

If you have been impacted by a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Irma, you may have suffered a loss of personal property items. If you carry “contents” insurance coverage, then some of those losses may be reimbursed by your insurance company. Before you recover anything, your insurance company may require you to submit a proof of loss form. For personal property items, such as heirlooms, electronics, kitchenware, clothes, and the like, your insurer will most likely require you to submit a “contents list.” The contents list will be a detailed inventory you submit to your insurer listing all the relevant items you are claiming, and will generally include such things as: the make and model, the place where the item was purchased or acquired, the original cost of the item, and the estimated market value of the items currently.

How Can You Show Proof of Ownership?

As mentioned, in order to recover under a contents claim, you must be able to come forward with reasonable proof of ownership. Common ways of showing you are the owner of the claimed property include: receipts, credit card statements, bank statements, videos, pictures, original packaging, wills, and in some cases affidavits of persons knowing you to be the owner of the item. If you were prudent enough to make an inventory list of all of your belongings before your property was destroyed, then this too will help. In the absence of such reasonable proof, your insurer may allow you to come forward with a reasonable explanation for the absence of such proof. The consequences of failing to show such proof may result in a claim denial.

If your insurer believes you to be the owner of the item, and the item is covered by your policy, your insurer will pay you the amount owed based on your policy. But make no mistake the burden is on the insured to come forward with reasonable proof of ownership of the claimed item. The exact level of proof that will be necessary to prove ownership will depend on the nature, age, and value of the item. Generally, the greater the value of the claimed item, the more proof will be necessary to recover. The reasoning is that higher value items are typically accompanied by more documentation. For example, a new stereo system may have come with a warranty. Or it may be reasonable to expect you to have retained a receipt for a new television set. An expensive heirloom may have been gifted by will. Of course, this does not mean that your insurer will expect you to retain every receipt for every item you own, but it does mean that you must be able to satisfactorily demonstrate ownership of the item.

How Much Should You Claim?

Do not, under any circumstances, falsely report ownership, or intentionally misrepresent the value of an item. Not only can this amount to criminal fraud, but it may also serve as a basis for your insurer to completely disavow your coverage for other claims, even when they would have otherwise been contractually bound to pay those claims. If you are not sure of the value of an item, then get a professional opinion. Public adjusters are professionals that can help you properly navigate the insurance claims process. If the item is unique, consider getting an expert appraisal of the item’s value before the damage. You don’t have to be exact, but you should avoid embellishing, or exaggerating the value of your item. Rest assured, your insurance company will investigate your claim, and the more credible you are, the more likely you are to recover.

How Much Will You Receive?

The exact amount you will recover will depend on the value of the item, as well as your specific policy. Contents coverage can generally be broken down into two types: “Replacement Value” and “Actual Value.” Replacement value means that your insurance company will cover you for the cost it would take to replace the same or similar property of equal or comparable quality up to the limits of your policy. For example, if you purchased a stereo worth $1,000 one year ago, and that stereo was damaged during a hurricane, your insurer will cover you for the cost it would take to replace that stereo. If that stereo can be purchased for $900 new, then your insurer will pay you $900, the replacement cost of the item (assuming your policy limit is for at least that amount). On the other hand, actual value is typically interpreted as meaning the replacement value, minus depreciation. Thus, if the depreciated value of that same stereo is $600, then your insurer will reimburse you for $600 (assuming your policy limit is for at least that amount).

Insurance policies will typically have a section titled “duties after a loss.” Most policies will impose a duty to promptly notify your insurer of the loss. Familiarize yourself with these duties, and ensure you are complying with the policy conditions.

You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].