Did Irene damage your home? How to file an insurance claim.

If you're weighing whether to file a home insurance claim related to Hurricane Irene, consumer groups are offering advice on how to go about it. Here are some of the key steps to take.

John Bazemore/AP
Janie Gibbs helps clean up a friend's destroyed home Sunday, after it was hit by Hurricane Irene Saturday in Columbia, N.C. Did your home incur damage from Irene? Here's what you need to know.

Although Irene slowed from a hurricane to a tropical storm as it moved up the Atlantic Coast, it still did plenty of damage.

If you're weighing whether to file an insurance claim related to damage to your home, consumer groups are offering advice on how to go about it.

Here are some of the key steps to take, according to the Consumer Federation of America and Consumer Reports.

Before filing a claim

1. Take photos of the damage, and make a list of your possessions.

2. Protect your home from further damage. Throw a tarp over a damaged roof, for example.

3. Remember that in 18 coastal states and the District of Columbia, insurers can impose hurricane deductibles, typically 1 to 5 percent of the insured value of your home. The states are Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

4. Note that homeowner policies do not cover flood, earthquake, tree removal (except if a tree damages the house), or food spoiled by a power failure. Some consumers have flood insurance separately from the federal government.

If you do file a claim

1. Report your claim as promptly as possible, since insurance companies generally handle them on a first-come, first-served basis.

2. Once your claim is reported, be sure to get your claim number and write it down. A claims department can locate your file easiest with that number.

3. Document all contacts with your insurance company, making a record of when you talked and with whom. “Note when an adjuster visits as well as any missed visits, unreturned phone calls, or rude behavior. You might need the notes if you have to sue,” Consumer Reports says.

4. If the insurer provides money for living expenses, don't sign a document saying it's your final payment. And don't sign papers saying all the damage was flood-related.

If you have a concern or complaint

1. If the claim is denied or you feel the offer is too low, ask your insurer to identify the policy language that prompted its decision. This can help you ascertain if the decision is correct or if the firm might have imposed limitations on coverage without adequately informing you. In court, ambiguous language in policies is often decided in favor of the homeowner.

2. The Consumer Federation of America recommends that complaints about a decision should be addressed first to more senior staff at the insurance company, then to your state insurance department (some states follow through with your insurer), and then to a lawyer.

3. If a claim was denied based on an “anti-concurrent causation” provision in your policy, you might be able to challenge the decision successfully. These clauses aim to allow insurers to remove coverage for wind damage if a flood happens at about the same time. But the Consumer Federation argues that these clauses are ambiguous in many cases.

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