By David Wilhite
No self-storage owner wants to contemplate the consequences of a fire destroying his facility or the wind ripping off his roof and doors, but the fact is that disasters can and do happen. Losses can be difficult to endure, but there are steps you can take to help speed up the claims process and get your operation back in order. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Tip: After any loss, it is important to focus on your strengths and coping skills. Set realistic goals for yourself and concentrate on priorities. Remember that disasters can happen to anyone and that you are not alone.
What to Do After a Loss
The first thing you should do after a loss--and note that some business insurance policies require you to do this--is take immediate action to protect your property against further damage. Depending on the circumstances of your particular loss, this might include calling a public utility to shut off the power to your premises (as in the case of flooding). Assuming that your claim is covered, the cost of any emergency measures should be picked up by your insurance company. (Be sure to keep your receipts for repairs). Of course, if a loss forces you to evacuate your premises, you should notify the police department before leaving your facility unlocked and unattended.
The next thing you should do after a loss is make an inventory of any items that have been lost, stolen or damaged. This serves two purposes: It can help you generate an action plan for getting your facility back in operation, and can greatly speed up the processing of your claim. Seeing the destruction of your business and personal property can be traumatic, especially in the case of a fire, but remember that you should not dispose of any damaged goods until your claim has been fully investigated by your insurance adjuster.
The third thing you should do is get in touch with your insurance agent or broker as soon as possible after a loss. The more quickly he is contacted, the sooner your claim can be processed. Advise him of any loss or damage. In situations where you need to evacuate your premises or have lost access to public services, be sure to give your agent or broker a telephone number where you can be reached. And try to avoid discussing the circumstances of your claim with anyone except your agent or broker--doing otherwise may put your claim in jeopardy.
Tip: Follow up on your call to your agent or broker with a letter detailing your loss. Keep a copy of the letter and all other correspondence for your records.
Filing Your Claim
In order to be reimbursed by your insurance company after a loss, you will need to file a claim. This is the formal document upon which payment will be adjudicated according to the terms and conditions of your policy. In most cases your insurance agent can complete and file the claim for you over the phone, although in some instances you may be required to file the form yourself. In either case, be sure to supply your agent with as much detail as possible.
Tip: If possible, take steps to support your claim with photos or video-camera footage of your property, both before (if available) and after the loss of damage. Remember to give your agent or broker copies of all police and/or fire reports, repair receipts and other pertinent documentation.
The Role of the Claims Adjuster
Once you have reported your claim to your agent or broker (who represents you), he will immediately contact a claims adjuster (who represents the insurance company). The claims adjuster's job, after thoroughly investigating the nature of your loss, is to make a judgment call on behalf of the insurance carrier to pay all, part or none of your claim, according the terms and conditions of your policy. While most claims are settled promptly and fairly, some are more complicated and may require some interaction on your part. In such cases, your agent or broker should work with you to help resolve your claim to your satisfaction.
What You Need to Know About Your Deductible
When your claim is settled, the amount that the insurance company pays out to you might be subject to a deductible. Choosing a larger deductible allows the insurance company to charge a smaller premium since you have agreed to pay a larger share of any incurred damages. Most self-storage facility owners choose a $1,000 deductible on their insurance policies.
Tip: You may want to check with your agent or broker to see how much you can save on your annual insurance premium by choosing a larger deductible than you currently have.
Remember, no matter how large or small your self-storage facility may be, securing adequate coverage is essential for protecting your business and your peace of mind.
David Wilhite is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Inc. Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry, including loss of income, employee dishonesty, comprehensive business liability, hazardous-contents removal and customer storage. For more information, contact Universal at Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079; phone (800) 844-2101; fax (602) 970-6240; Web: www.vpico.com/universal.