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Publication #DH199

Six Steps in Making an Insurance Claim1

Michael T. Olexa and Lauren Grant2

Step One: Contact Your Agent Immediately

  • Give your name, address, policy number, and the date and time of your loss.

  • Make sure to tell your insurance agent where you can be reached, especially if you are unable to stay in your home.

  • Follow up the call with a letter detailing the problem. Keep a copy of the letter.

  • Your insurance agent will arrange for an adjustor to visit your property and assess the damage. Be sure the adjustor is properly licensed. In Florida, call the Department of Financial Services Consumer Help Line, toll-free, at 1-877-693-5236. Check online or in a phone book for your state's insurance consumer help line.

Step Two: Carefully Document Your Losses

Safety First! Before entering a building, always check for structural damage. Do not go inside the building if there is any chance of the building collapsing. Be careful walking around. Upon entering the building, do not use open flames since gas may be trapped inside. Instead, use your flashlight to light your way. Keep power off until an electrician has inspected your system for safety.

  • Make a detailed list of lost or damaged property.

  • Videotape and/or photograph damaged property before beginning any repairs.

  • Do not throw away damaged property without your adjustor's approval.

  • Try to document the value of each object lost. Bills of sale, canceled checks, charge account records, and insurance evaluations are good evidence. If you have no such records, estimate the value, and give purchase place and date of purchase. Include this information with your list.

  • List cleaning and repair bills, including materials, cost of rental equipment, and depreciation of purchased equipment.

  • List any additional living expenses you incur if your home is so severely damaged that you have to find other accommodations while repairs are being made (this includes motel bills, restaurant bills, home rental, and/or car rental).

Step Three: Protect Your Property from Further Damage or Theft

  • Patch roofs temporarily. Cover broken windows with boards or plastic.

  • If household furnishings are exposed to weather, move them to a safe location for storage.

  • Remember the documentation from Step Two! Save receipts for what you spend and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement.

  • If your home has been flooded, protect your family's health by cleaning your home right away. Floodwaters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, and factories. Throw out foods and medicines that may have come into contact with floodwater. Dry out water-damaged furnishings and clothing as soon as possible to prevent fading and deterioration.

Step Four: Working with Adjustor

  • Your insurance agent will arrange for an adjustor to visit your property and assess the damage. Be sure the adjustor is properly licensed. In Florida, call the Department of Financial Services Consumer Help Line, toll-free, at 1-877-693-5236. Check online or in a phone book for your state's insurance consumer help line.

  • Be sure that you or a trusted advisor is present when the adjustor visits the site.

  • Work with the adjustor. It is the adjustor's job to assist you and review your claim. The adjustor will inspect your list of lost or damaged property. The adjustor will work with you to calculate the value of the items on the list and prepare a repair estimate of damage to the property.

  • You and your adjustor need to come to an agreement as to the scope of damage, which is an agreement as to what needs to be repaired or replaced without a dollar amount.

  • Make sure you know what needs to be done to follow up on this agreement and why. If you do not understand what needs to be done, ask the adjustor for instructions in writing.

Step Five: Settling Your Claim

  • You may settle personal property and structural claims at separate times, although your adjustor may suggest that you file the claims together. Filing separately allows you to take the time needed to determine the full extent of your losses.

  • Do not be in a hurry to settle your claim. Although you may want to have your damage claim settled as quickly as possible, it is sometimes advisable to wait until all the damage has been discovered. Damages overlooked in an early estimate may become apparent later. If you are dissatisfied with the settlement offer, talk things over with your agent and adjustor.

  • If you and your adjustor cannot reach a settlement, you may obtain mediation through your state's department of insurance. Mediation is an informal process where a neutral third party tries to help the parties resolve the dispute. In you are in Florida, call the Department of Fianncial Services Consumer Help Line, toll-free, at 1-877-693-5236 for information on mediation or other methods of dispute resolution. Check online or in a phone book for your state's insurance consumer help line.

Step Six: Repairing Your Home

  • You or your insurance company may contract for the repair of your home. Make sure the contractor is a reputable firm that is both licensed and insured. You can find out whether the contractor holds a proper license by contacting your state's department of business regulations. In Florida, contact the Department of Business and Professional Regulation online, or call 1-850-487-1395 (this is not a toll-free number).

  • Beware of door-to-door sellers when choosing a contractor to make repairs. Sometimes undependable workers enter a damaged area, make cheap repairs, and leave before the residents discover that the repairs are inadequate. If your local contractor cannot do the work, ask the contractor to recommend someone.

  • Get a written estimate that includes any oral promises the contractor made. Always ask if there is a charge for an estimate before allowing anyone into your home.

  • Your insurance company may initially pay you a sum equal to the actual cash value, unless you request minimal repairs. The company will withhold the balance of the full replacement cost until after you complete the repairs.

Sources for This Publication



This document is EDIS document DH199, formerly IFAS publication DH0431. Published June 1998, revised January 2016. It is part of The Disaster Handbook, a component of the Comprehensive Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Education Module. There are ten Disaster Handbook documents by Olexa and Grant: DH138, DH199, DH200, DH201, DH202, DH203, DH204, DH206, DH215, and DH219. Visit the EDIS website


Michael T. Olexa, professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, and director, Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL. Lauren Grant, student, Levin College of Law, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

This publication is designed to provide accurate, current, and authoritative information on the subject. However, since the laws, regulations, administrative rulings, and court decisions on which it is based are subject to constant revision, portions of this publication could become outdated at any time. This publication is distributed with the understanding that the authors are not engaged in rendering legal advice or opinions, and the information contained herein should not be regarded, or relied upon, as a substitute for legal advice or opinion. For these reasons, the utilization of these materials by any person constitutes an agreement to hold harmless the authors, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the University of Florida for any liability claims, damages, or expenses that may be incurred by any person as a result of reference to or reliance on the information contained in this fact sheet.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.