Your risk-management efforts can go a long way toward mitigating incidents of property damage or bodily injury at your self-storage facility, but eventually something is bound to happen that will require you to file an insurance claim. Your carrier's skilled professionals are standing by to assist; but you have a role to play, too. Here are three things your adjusters want you to know about the claims process.
Document the Scene
When a tenant or visitor complains of an injury, the priority is to deal with any medical emergencies. Once those have been addressed, it’s important to document the occurrence in detail.
Start by completing a detailed incident report that includes the person’s name, address and phone number, as well as the names of any witnesses, an in-depth description of the circumstances, and as much identifying information about the injured person as possible. Take photos to preserve a record of the scene as it was at the time of the accident. If the injured party agrees to being photographed, take those photos as well.
All injuries must be documented with an incident report, witness statements and photographs. Failing to complete a report because an injury appears minor could be a costly mistake if the injured party were to file an insurance claim or lawsuit.
As soon as you’ve completed the report, fax or e-mail a copy to your insurance agent or carrier. This gives him the option of conducting a preliminary investigation.
In the case of property-only damage, your first task is still to document the incident. Photograph the scene to record the extent and severity of the loss. Take detailed notes of your observations, conversations with witnesses and phone conversations, and get contact information for everyone with whom you speak about the matter. If you need to make emergency, temporary repairs to prevent further damage or address safety concerns, keep a detailed record of your expenses and save your receipts.
Security cameras are an important tool in a claims investigation. Review any video footage of the event as soon as possible. Many security systems record over old video periodically, so it’s critical to capture any relevant footage before it’s lost. Save a copy, and forward it to your claims adjuster.
Notify Your Agent or Carrier
One of the single most detrimental actions a self-storage owner can take regarding a claim is to wait too long to inform his insurance agent or carrier. Notify this person as soon as possible after any event 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 can have a negative effect on the adjuster's ability to investigate. In some cases, a delay can make it impossible to gather the necessary information. For example, if weather or environmental conditions may have played a factor, such as in a bodily injury from a fall on icy steps, delaying notification could nullify the adjuster's ability to document property conditions at the time of injury.
If you’re served with a lawsuit, it’s critical to notify your insurance carrier immediately. By the time the papers land in your hands, the clock is already ticking. In most jurisdictions, you have 20 or 30 days to respond to a summons and complaint. Your carrier needs to have the maximum time available to provide the proper support.
In fact, failure to notify your carrier in time to meet the response deadline may be a violation of your insurance contract, which may void the carrier’s responsibility to provide coverage. If you’re served, immediately fax or e‑mail a copy of the summons and complaint to your claims department and agent. On the fax cover sheet or in the e-mail message, note the date and time of service and the name of the person served.
Leave Claims-Handling to the Professionals
It’s never wise to take a do-it-yourself approach an insurance claim. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant an incident may appear, it’s vital to let your carrier handle it. The premium you pay includes the services of the carrier's claims department and its experienced adjusters. They represent your interests and will work with you to resolve the claim quickly and achieve the best possible outcome for your business.
Once you’ve notified your agent or carrier, stay in close communication throughout the process and follow any instructions he provides. In the meantime, there are a few things to avoid doing:
Don’t give out information. It’s best to avoid discussing the claim with tenants, visitors, witnesses, or another party’s lawyer or insurance company. Let your adjuster do the talking. Don’t give out information about the incident, investigation or potential settlements. If you’re contacted by someone seeking this type of info, advise him to contact your claims adjuster directly.
Don’t admit liability. It's important to avoid saying anything that could be construed as admitting liability for property damage or bodily injury. For example, if a tenant’s belongings are damaged from rain coming through a leaking roof, don’t say something like, “Well, we should’ve had the roof inspected” or “Don't worry, we have insurance.”
Don’t make volunteer payments. Volunteer payments are when you offer to make a deal with the tenant to cover the damage yourself. Making this type of payment without consulting your insurance agent or carrier could nullify your coverage. If that happens, you may be responsible for paying for any resulting claims, legal fees or court-ordered damages, which could be quite costly and jeopardize your business.
When bodily injury or property damage happens at your facility, it can be frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved. Remember that your insurance carrier's claims department is staffed with experienced professionals who’ll look out for your best interests and guide you through the process quickly and efficiently. Working with your adjuster to begin the investigation as soon as possible and following his instructions during the process can help resolve the claim quickly and with the most positive outcome for your self-storage operation.
Don Sedlacek is vice president of claims for Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency, a provider of specialty insurance programs for self-storage businesses in Canada and the United States. For more information, call 800.528.1056; visit www.minico.com.