The Do’s and Don’ts of Filing an Insurance Claim: A Guide for Self-Storage Operators

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By Don Sedlacek

Property damage. Bodily injury. A lien auction. The list of things that could go wrong at your self-storage facility is so diverse that it’s probably inevitable one day you’ll find yourself faced with filing an insurance claim. Skilled claims professionals can go a long way toward resolving issues quickly and efficiently. However, there are a few important do’s and don’ts for self-storage owners that may help ensure the best possible outcome for your bottom line.

Don’t Delay in Notifying Your Insurance Agent or Carrier

Ask any claims professional, and he’ll tell you emphatically that one of the single most detrimental actions a self-storage owner can take regarding a claim is to wait too long to notify his insurance agent or carrier. In general, you should make notification as soon as possible after you experience a significant insurance-related event at your facility that could result in a claim or lawsuit.

The three most time-sensitive events are bodily injuries, property losses and lawsuits. Delaying notification to your insurance agent or carrier may reduce or eliminate the claims adjuster’s ability to effectively investigate the incident. For example, if a tenant slips and falls on an icy walkway in January and you wait until June to report it, it’s impossible for the adjuster to investigate the weather conditions at your property at the time of the incident.

For lawsuits, immediate notification is absolutely critical. Your insurance carrier can provide a great deal of support, but time is of the essence. In the majority of jurisdictions, you have either 20 or 30 days to respond to a summons and complaint. Failure to notify your insurance carrier in time to meet this deadline may be a violation of your insurance contract and may void the insurance carrier’s responsibility to provide coverage.

If you’re served, immediately fax or e‑mail a copy of the summons and complaint to your insurance carrier’s claims department. Note the date and time of service and the name of the person served on the cover sheet. Also send a copy of this information to your insurance agent.

Do Document the Incident in Detail

In the case of property damage (assuming no one has been injured), the first priority is to document the incident. Photograph the scene and any damage to document the extent and severity of the loss. Take detailed notes of your observations, conversations with witnesses, telephone conversations and contact information for everyone you speak with about this matter. If you need to make emergency, temporary repairs to prevent further damage or to address safety concerns, keep a detailed record of your expenses and save your receipts.

When a tenant or visitor complains of an injury, complete a detailed incident report that includes the person’s name, address, telephone number, names of witnesses, an in-depth description of the circumstances, and as much identifying information about the injured person as possible. It’s a good idea to take photos to preserve a record of the scene as it was at the time of the incident. Also consider taking a photo of the injured party, if he agrees to one.

As soon as you have completed the report, fax or e-mail a copy to your insurance agent or carrier the same day. This allows him the option of conducting a preliminary investigation. It’s important to understand that an incident report should be completed for any and all injuries reported to the facility or witnessed by an employee, no matter how minor the injury appears at the time.

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