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The Dos and Donts of Filing an Insurance Claim: A Guide for Self-Storage Operators

The majority of self-storage operators may one day find themselves faced with filing an insurance claim. Here are a few important do’s and don’ts that will help ensure the best possible outcome in the event something goes wrong.

July 31, 2014

5 Min Read
The Dos and Donts of Filing an Insurance Claim: A Guide for Self-Storage Operators

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 email 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.

Don’t Try to Handle the Situation Yourself

The premium you pay to your insurance carrier includes the services of the claims department and its experienced professional adjusters. They represent your interests and will work with you to resolve the claim quickly and with the best possible outcome for your operation. Notify your insurance agent or carrier quickly of any incident and stay in close communication with him throughout the claims process. With that in mind, there are some corollary don’ts to remember on this topic:

  • Don’t give out information to others before reporting the claim to your insurance representative. This includes tenants, visitors, witnesses or another party’s lawyer or insurance company. If someone contacts you seeking details about the incident, the claim investigation or potential settlements, don’t offer information on your own. Advise the person to contact your claims adjuster directly.

  • Don’t admit liability. If a customer’s belongings are damaged from rain coming through a leaking roof, don’t say things like, “I knew we should have had the roof inspected” or “I’m sure our insurance will take care of this for you.”

  • Don’t make volunteer payments. For example, if your security gate closes on the back of a tenant’s vehicle, don’t offer to make a deal with the tenant to pay for the damage yourself. Making volunteer payments without consulting your insurance agent or carrier could nullify your insurance coverage and leave you on the hook to pay for any resulting claims, legal fees or court-ordered damages, which could be financially devastating to your self-storage business.

Do Review and Save Relevant Video Footage

Video is an excellent tool for claims investigation. Whether you’re faced with an incident of property damage or bodily injury, it’s important to review the security video footage from the time of the event, save it electronically and forward it to your claims adjuster. This suggestion underscores the importance of reporting incidents to your insurance agent or carrier in a timely manner. Since many security systems record over old video footage periodically, it’s critical that you work with your adjuster to begin the investigation as soon as possible after the incident and capture relevant video footage before it’s lost forever.

The circumstances surrounding an insurance claim can be upsetting and frustrating. Your insurance carrier’s claims department is staffed with experienced adjusters who can guide you through the process as efficiently as possible. Your adherence to the important do’s and don’ts of insurance claims combined with your adjuster’s expertise and advice can help to resolve the claim quickly and with the most positive outcome available for your self-storage operation.

Don Sedlacek is vice president of claims for Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency LLC, a provider of specialty insurance programs for self-storage businesses in the United States and Canada. For more information, call 800.528.1056; visit www.minico.com.

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