What you do after an auto accident or a natural disaster can save you time, money and energy. Below are some of the most commonly-asked questions, and some answers that may not be “common knowledge.”

What should I do if I’m involved in a car accident?

First, stop your vehicle and move it to a safe place, out of traffic if at all possible, but don’t leave. Legally you are required to stop and remain at the scene of the accident. Check with passengers in all vehicles involved to determine if there are any injuries and call for medical assistance if needed.

Exchange information with the other driver(s) involved in the accident. You should exchange names, addresses, telephone numbers, type and ownership of vehicles, insurance information and a description of damages.

Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses. Call the police.

The police will advise you if their response to the scene is not necessary. Do not admit fault to anyone as there could be multiple factors contributing to an accident. Give factual details of your recollection of the accident and cooperate with the police in providing answers to their questions. If your vehicle needs to be towed, request that it be removed to a repair shop of your choice. As soon as possible, contact the company carrying your insurance to report the loss.

What should I do in the event of a homeowners or commercial property loss?

As soon as possible, contact the company carrying your insurance to report the loss. Make reasonable and necessary repairs to protect your property from further damage or loss. Keep a record of repair costs and retain receipts for any expenditures. If the loss involves theft or vandalism, notify the police immediately.

What should I do if there’s an accident at work, and a potential workers’ compensation claim?

First, make sure the injured employee is comfortable. Do not move the employee if head, neck or back injuries are suspected. Make sure the injured employee receives professional medical attention. Complete the accident reporting form required in your state. You should also contact your insurance company to report the accident and provide information concerning the employee and their injury.

What if a storm has damaged my home so severely that I can’t stay in it?

Most homeowners policies provide coverage for living expenses if you can’t stay in your home. Most policies will reimburse you for “reasonable expenses” over and above your normal living costs (such as lodging, for example, since it’s over and above your mortgage or rent payment) if your home is uninhabitable as a result of a covered peril and you must temporarily relocate. But most policies will reimburse you only for those food expenses over and above what you would normally pay for food.

You must keep all receipts in order for the expenses to be considered part of the loss. The expenses must be in line with normal living costs and must be a necessary and direct result of the loss. Policies typically limit recovery under “additional living expenses” to a percentage of the amount of coverage on the home itself.

If trees on my property are blown down am I covered?

Many homeowners policies don’t provide coverage for damage to trees caused by wind. But if a tree falls and damages insured property, such as a house or a fence, the damage is almost always covered.

I’ve reported my claim, now what should I do?

Do everything in your power to guard against follow-on damage to your property. Secure your property, by temporarily boarding windows and tacking down loose roof shingles. If possible, dry carpets and personal property, to prevent any further damage. If you don’t take preventative measures, and additional damage results, it may not be covered.

Is there anything I can do to help speed up the claims process?

An adjuster will contact you as soon as possible, but priority will be given to the most severe losses. Larger claims may be settled in stages, not all at once. While you wait for the adjuster to contact you, you should:

  • Estimates. Get at least two, and preferably three repair estimates for the adjuster to review.
  • Photos. Take photos of the damaged property and gather any pictures showing the property before the loss.
  • Replacement Costs. List all damaged property, including each item’s description, age, original cost, place of purchase, and estimated replacement cost. Include any receipts or canceled cheques for these items.

Power was out for a few days and the food in my refrigerator and freezer were spoiled. Is the replacement cost covered?

Most residential policies have a “power failure” exclusion and don’t cover food spoilage that results from power outages. If you live in an area that has frequent storms and power outages, your best bet is to keep several large coolers in storage, ready for use.

My stereo and computer equipment were damaged by a power surge. Is that covered?

Probably not. Most homeowners policies provide coverage under “sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current.” But coverage doesn’t apply to loss of transistors, computer chips, and similar items. So, damage from a power surge wouldn’t be covered for your computer, TV or stereo.

How long after an adjuster reviews my claim should I have to wait to receive a cheque?

It depends on the cause of the claim. If your claim is an isolated incident, you’re more likely to get a resolution quickly. If your claim is one of many, the claim process is likely to take far longer. You should call back a few days after your interview with the adjuster, to see when they submitted the paperwork to your insurance company. You may also want to contact the insurance company after the adjuster has forwarded them their report.

I’ve just received my claim cheque and it’s not nearly what I expected. What recourse do I have?

If the cheque is for an amount that’s lower than you expected, it’s usually because of policy terms that require settlement on an actual cash basis, to be followed by a separate payment for replacement costs when repairs or replacement are completed. Check with your Authorised Representative or with your insurance company.

What’s the difference between actual cash value and replacement-cost coverage?

If the policy indicates that settlement will be on a replacement-cost basis, then payment will be made for the actual cost, at today’s prices, to repair or replace, limited only by the total amount of coverage that was purchased. If the adjustment basis is actual cash value, settlement will be made by determining the replacement cost at today’s prices, less a reasonable amount for depreciation, age, or obsolescence. Some policies provide coverage for the home on a “guaranteed replacement cost” basis, in which case the carrier pays whatever it costs to repair or rebuild the home, regardless of policy limits.