Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019

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In early 2011, hundreds of tornadoes ravaged through southeastern United States, leaving devastation in their wake; hundreds of people died, thousands were injured and property damage was catastrophic. For those who find themselves dealing with insurance companies after these types of life-altering natural disasters, it’s important to understand how the tornado claims process works. Here are answers to frequently asked questions to help you through this difficult time:

What Is Tornado Insurance?

Unlike storm surge or flooding, tornado insurance is a wind event that is covered under your homeowner’s policy. So like any other wind event, such as a severe thunder storm that causes damage, there are no special issues involved in filing a tornado damage claim.

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How Does the Tornado Claims Process Work?

Because tornado damage is covered under your homeowner’s policy, homeowners need first need to report the damage to their insurance provider. Your insurance company will then send an adjuster out to survey the damage and prepare an estimate of your loss. Once the estimate is complete, your insurance company issues a payment for your estimated damage.

What Information Will an Insurance Company Need?

The insurance claims process begins with filing a claim with your insurance company. Documentation is crucial, however. After the storm, take photographs of any damage and other items you may have lost. Photos will assist in substantiating your losses and in the settlement of your claim, particularly with respect to personal property. Also make sure to keep receipts of any expenses associated with being displaced from your home as a result of the tornado, such as hotel stays and meals.

What if the Required Information Was Lost?

Insurance providers keep copies of your policy on file, so if you’ve lost your policy, simply request it from you provider. Obtaining a copy of the policy is important, because it will let you know what you need to do to make sure you complete your claim as well as your rights in the claims process. If you have lost receipts or other proofs of purchase for items of personal property that has been damaged or destroyed, request copies of your credit card statements to verify purchases or simply research (via the internet) the items and provide your insurance company with the cost of the item of like kind or quality. That will usually suffice.

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Are Bad Faith Insurance Tactics Common with Tornado Claims?

They can be as insurance companies are known for low-balling estimates of loss. So, make sure that the estimate they provide is in line with your actual losses. If it is not, let them know that the amount of their estimate is too low. However, you will need evidence. In the case of your structure, you will need a contractor’s estimate showing the repairs are more than the insurance company estimates. In the case of personal property, you will need receipts or other evidence (i.e. comparables) establishing the correct value.

How Would FEMA’s Involvement Affect My Tornado Insurance Claim?

Because many of the areas impacted by the recent tornadoes have been declared federal disaster areas, residents in those areas may apply for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance. Residents can apply for money to replace lost clothes and to pay for food, lodging, medical, dental and funeral costs. FEMA assistance is available for individuals and businesses. FEMA will reimburse damages to a primary residence up to $200,000 and personal property losses up to $40,000. Low-interest loans up to $2 million are available to affected business owners through the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), while farmers, ranchers and those in agricultural are eligible for up to $500,000 of aid.

The deadline for filing for physical damages with the SBA is June 27, 2011 and January 30, 2012 for reporting economic injury. FEMA has set up a toll-free number for those affected by the storms, so whether your home was destroyed or your windows were damaged, you can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to register with your local emergency agency.

When Should Someone Contact a Tornado Insurance Claim Lawyer for Help?

If your insurance company refuses to pay you in full for your losses, you should contact a bad faith insurance attorney right away. Attorneys typically take tornado injury cases on a contingency fee basis, so there is no out-of-pocket cost to you if they do not obtain a recovery. Attorneys who handle bad faith insurance lawsuits on a regular basis know the ins and outs of the claims process and can oftentimes maximize you recovery.

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What Types of Compensation Are Available to Tornado Victims?

Those affected by the tornadoes will typically be entitled to recover for all physical damage caused by the tornado as well as incidental costs associated with the storm. This would include the cost of repairing your home and any other physical structures located on your property up to the policy limit, temporary housing (up to the maximum amount set in the policy) as a result of being displaced, clothing, furniture and food spoilage. Depending on your policy, you may also be entitled to additional funds if your structure must be repaired to meet new zoning or building ordinances.

Beware of Storm Chasers

If your home was damaged or destroyed by the tornado, be cautious about “storm chasers” – those who prey on disaster victims by coming into town and taking money for repairs that are never done or aren’t done correctly. Don’t be rushed into signing a contract with any roofing or building company. Instead, investigate the business with the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and get written estimates for the proposed job.

Beware of out-of-town contractors that encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Investigate the track record of any roofer, builder or contractor that you consider hiring. Talk to friend and neighbors to find out who they hired and whether or not they were satisfied with the work done. It’s important to look for professionals, get references, and to never pay anyone up front in full. Don’t even give anyone a deposit until you have done your homework.