How to deal with insurance claims

Thousands of home and auto insurance claims have been filed in South Carolina and Georgia because of Saturday night's storm damage, and there will likely be thousands more to come.

If you have damage, insurance officials and industry experts recommend the following:

MINIMIZE THE LOSS: "If you have holes in the roof, tarp them and prevent further damage from rain," said Augusta Nationwide insurance agent Wayne Budd. Also, keep the receipts to turn in to the adjustor, he said.

Report the damage in a reasonable time, he said, because you don't want accidental storm damage to cross over into neglect.

FULLY ASSESS THE DAMAGE: "Unless you know for a fact that it is only a few shingles missing, report it, because there may be more damage there than you can see," said Hudson Bell, a MetLife insurance agent in Augusta.

That way you are covered if the damage is more than a few lost shingles.

DETERMINE IF IT'S WORTH REPORTING: If the damage is minor and not equal to the deductible on your home insurance policy, it might not be worth the trouble.

"If it doesn't meet the deductible, there's no use in tying up resources. There are others with big problems that need to be addressed," Mr. Budd said.

BE PATIENT: Insurance adjustors, especially for the larger corporations, will be on the scene between 24 and 48 hours after a claim is made. It sometimes takes 72 hours to resolve a claim.

"Take pictures and cover it up, but I wouldn't make any repairs until the adjustor got there," Mr. Bell said.

VEHICLE DAMAGE: Treat hail or falling-debris damage to your car the same as you would your home, such as making a claim only if the damage exceeds your deductible, said Allison Dean Love, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service.

GET PROACTIVE: The Georgia Insurance Information Service has a list of toll-free phone numbers consumers can use in the event of a catastrophe at www.giis.org/cat/800.shtml.

The Web site also has a free downloadable home inventory software program.

-- Tim Rausch, staff writer