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While You Were Out: Insurance Claims That Arise While You're Away





You're relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean or sitting at an important business meeting far from home. You're still daydreaming about your vacation or how well your presentation went at the conference when you arrive home to disaster. Perhaps a pipe has burst and flooded your home, or a burglar has broken in and stolen your laptop and new flat-screen TV, or birds have flown down the chimney and wreaked havoc on your furniture.

Whatever your misfortune involves, you should begin by photographing the damage and contacting your homeowners insurance company, says Joanna Moore, senior vice president of claims and chief claims officer at Mercury Insurance. (See: "Alphabet soup: 6 types of homeowners insurance and what they cover.")

"Don't discard things before your insurance carrier can inspect them," she says.

If your water heater leaks, causing a flood, let your insurer take a look to determine if something failed and the product is still under warranty.

Your insurer also is likely to cover emergency repair costs, such as drying out a soggy home or boarding up a broken front door, says Moore.

Depending on the nature of your disaster, it could be covered under the dwelling or personal property portions of your policy, or both. The dwelling portion would cover damage caused to your floor by a burst water pipe, while your personal property portion would typically cover your ruined furniture. (See: "New homeowner insurance basics.")

If your home is uninhabitable, the loss-of-use portion would cover the costs of things like temporary accommodations and clothing, she says.

Because most homeowner insurance policies have deductibles, you should compare the amount of the loss to your deductible before filing a claim, says Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

"Every time you file a claim your insurer re-evaluates your insurability," Moraga says. A typical homeowner files a claim every 10 or 12 years. Filing two or three within a short period could "send up a red flag."

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