Smashed windows. Fires. Stolen items. While ordinarily an uncommon occurrence, scenes of vandalism, disorderly conduct, and mass protests have dominated American airwaves recently.
Unfortunately, this kind of property damage often leaves home and business owners alike struggling to figure out how to pursue relief for the harm their property suffered. Massachusetts property owners rarely know, when it comes time to file a claim, whether their policy even covers that type of damage.
Fortunately, civil commotion is generally covered by most standard insurance policies, meaning compensation for the damages from the summer's unrest was likely covered. However, this doesn't mean that the claims process was easy or that those individuals all received timely responses to their claims. Read on for more information about what property insurance usually covers, what Massachusetts requires of insurance carriers, and what to do if you are a victim of bad faith insurance practices.
What Is Usually Covered By Property Damage Insurance Policies in Massachusetts?
Before filing a claim for property damage, you should ensure that the type of damage that was sustained is covered by your policy. A Massachusetts property damage attorney can be a valuable ally during this time.
Insurance companies are required to include the information about policy exclusions at the time that the insured is purchasing the policy. Exclusions to your policy can usually be found in the fine print of the contract you signed for the coverage. Your insurance company can also provide this information to you if you call and inquire about your policy as well.
Most standard homeowners and casualty insurance generally covers:
- Damage caused by fire, explosions, or lightning.
- Damage from high winds or hail.
- Damage resulting from riots or civil commotion.
- Damage caused by aircraft or vehicles.
- Smoke damage.
- Damage resulting from theft, burglary, or vandalism. Note: If you file a claim for this type of damage, you will likely be asked to submit a copy of the police report along with your claim.
- Riot or civil commotion that results in property damage.
- Damage resulting from fallen objects, such as a tree. Note: Most insurance policies will provide up to $500 to remove the tree if it falls on your house and will also provide coverage of damage resulting from the fallen tree. However, if the bulk of the expense related to your property damage involves the cleanup of debris caused by the tree falling, your claim will likely be denied.
- Damage resulting from the weight of snow or sleet.
What Is Not Covered in a Standard Property Damage Policy?
Standard policies generally exclude several types of damage, though most of these items can be covered through an endorsement on the policy or from the purchase of an additional policy.
The damages that are usually not included are:
- Floods: Flood damage is usually not offered as part of a standard policy, though flood insurance policies are sometimes offered by private insurers, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also provides this type of policy for property owners.
- Earthquakes: While earthquakes large enough to cause damage are rare in Massachusetts, smaller earthquakes in the state give it a designation of “moderate” earthquake activity.
- Damage caused by your own negligence: Part of owning property is protecting it from excessive wear through proper maintenance. If the damage you sustained on your property was the result of a failure to maintain it, your claim will likely be denied.
- Sewer backups: Many property owners do not realize that they must maintain the sewer lines from their homes to their property lines. Aging sewer systems, combined pipelines designed to contain both sewer as well as stormwater drainage, tree roots causing cracks or blockages in the line, or blockages in the main line cause sewer backups. While sewer backups can result in thousands of dollars worth of damages to walls, flooring, and electrical wiring, they are usually not covered by a property insurance policy unless the property owner has purchased an endorsement.
- Termite Damage: Termites can chew through everything from support beams to even your furniture. Termites are a real and costly threat to Fort Lauderdale homes but most standard insurance policies contain language that excludes coverage of this source of damage.
What You Must Do When Filing a Massachusetts Property Damage Claim
If you plan to file a property damage claim in Massachusetts, for a successful claim you must:
- Give immediate notice of the damage to your insurance company.
- Protect the property from further damage. Many times, if a structural part of the house, such as the roof or windows sustains damage, the contents of the home are at risk of damage from rain, wind, and pests entering the home from the original site of damage. You are required to protect your property from further damage through temporary repairs. Be sure to keep the receipts for items purchased to make these temporary repairs, as your policy will likely reimburse you for those expenses.
- Provide your insurance company with an itemized list of property that was damaged and destroyed as a result of the damaging event. If your claim is the result of property that was lost due to theft, be sure to include a copy of the police report.
- Keep all damaged property to be viewed by the insurance company upon request. Do not throw away damaged items until your insurer says it is all right for you to do so.
What Does an Adjuster Do in a Massachusetts Property Damage Case?
A crucial part of your insurance claim will involve a visit by the insurance company's adjuster. This is a representative of the insurance company who is trained to assess damage by taking photos, measurements, and will review the documentation for your claim, such as contractor's estimates, your own photos of the damage, and receipts for temporary repairs, temporary lodging, and other expenses arising from the damage.
Individuals in Massachusetts have the option to hire a public, or independent, adjuster. This individual will do the same tasks as the insurance company's adjuster but is not an employee of the insurance company and—therefore—has no loyalty to the insurance company's bottom line.
While an independent adjuster can provide you peace of mind as to whether the insurance company adjuster's assessment of the damage is fair, take these precautions when hiring one:
- Ensure that the independent adjuster is licensed to do business in the state, is not affiliated with a building contractor, and can furnish references from customers who have used his or her services in the past.
- Understand that hiring an independent adjuster will not result in a faster payment of your claim.
Why Massachusetts Property Damage Claims Are Denied
An insurance provider may deny a property damage claim because:
- You let your insurance lapse. The provision of insurance coverage is a contractual agreement between the insurance company and the insured. Part of that contractual agreement involves the amount of money that needs to be paid to maintain the policy, as well as when and how it should be paid. Failing to pay your premiums when they are due can cause your insurance to lapse, leaving you without recourse if you should incur property damage. To cancel your policy due to non-payment, the insurance company must provide 10 days' written notice.
- Your insurer believes you exaggerated the amount of damage your property sustained or are lying about how the damage occurred. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), insurance fraud in the U.S. costs around $40 billion per year, meaning that each family pays $400-$700 a year on increased premiums to pay for this fraud. Expect your insurer to review your claim thoroughly in an attempt to avoid paying out on a fraudulent claim.
- The damage occurred from an excluded event. If your property damage was the result of flooding or another type of condition that is listed in the policy exclusions, you cannot receive payment on your claim.
- You failed to report the loss or file your claim within the insurance policy deadline. Your contractual agreement for insurance coverage includes the requirement that you promptly report any damage or loss to covered property, even if you do not plan to file a claim. While you're reporting the damage, it is strongly encouraged that you ask your insurance provider about the deadline for filing a claim, as this can vary according to provider and policy.
- You failed to adequately protect your property from further damage. If your property sustained structural damage, such as damage to the roof or windows, you must take steps to temporarily repair the damage so that the contents of your home aren't subsequently being destroyed by rain, wind, or pests who can enter through the initial source of your insurance claim. Be sure to keep receipts of items you purchased to make temporary repairs, as these expenses can be compensation. It is important to note that if your property was vacant for quite some time when the damage occurred, this can also result in a denied claim as the insurance provider can argue that leaving the property vacant was a form of failing to protect it.
What Are Bad Faith Insurance Practices in Massachusetts Property Damage Cases?
Insurance companies are required to provide timely response to attempts at communication by their insured and to provide timely payment for covered damage.
Failing to do the following constitutes bad faith insurance practices in Massachusetts.
- Misrepresenting the benefits, coverages, conditions, and terms of any available insurance policy.
- Purposefully causing the policy of the insured to lapse by offering misleading information. Note: An insurance company can choose to drop your coverage or cancel your policy, but the company must provide you with at least 45 days' notice that your policy is being dropped and must also provide a reason for dropping your policy.
- Failing to offer a settlement on the claim that a reasonable person would consider too low to be considered fair compensation for the damage that was incurred.
- Requesting an unreasonable amount of documentation to prove the damage.
- Denying a claim for coverage without providing a reason for the denial.
- Failing to promptly settle a claim when it is obvious that the damage that occurred was coverable by the policy.
- Unreasonably delaying communication with an insured about a claim or denying the onset of an investigation into the claim.
- Canceling your insurance policy without proper notification or without a justified cause for doing so. Insurance companies can only cancel policies mid-contract in limited circumstances, such as non-payment of premiums, conviction for a crime that increases hazard under the policy, the policy was obtained under fraudulent means or through misrepresentation, the insured's willful or reckless acts increase the damage hazard, or physical changes to the property make it no longer insurable.
Let Us Help You With Your Massachusetts Property Damage Claim
Many things can make property damage claims complex. Insurance companies are in the business to make money, which often results in them using a variety of tactics to avoid paying out property damage claims. Property owners are unaware of the time limits and the exclusions that can derail their efforts to obtain coverage from their policy.
Insurance companies can attempt to offer a settlement that is unreasonably low for the amount of damage incurred. Whatever complexity you have encountered while trying to obtain coverage for your property damage, an experienced Massachusetts property damage attorney from Dolman Law Group can help you understand your legal options and guide you through your next steps.
Trust our team to help you make sense of the process of obtaining payment for your property damage. For a free case evaluation, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group at 833-552-7274 or by contacting us online.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
76 Canal Street, Suite 302
Boston, MA 02114