Monthly Archives: January 2012

When you have a Home Insurance Claim

We recently wrote about the process of managing an auto insurance claim; today we look at managing a claim on your Washington Homeowners Insurance.  Like auto insurance, you need to be sure to promptly notify your agent or carrier about a loss and your intention to file a claim.  Experts advise, though, to take a breath before calling and give yourself time to assess the damage and decide whether or not it will exceed the deductible. If your claim will not exceed the deductible, there is no reason to notify the insurance company and there may be good reasons not to offer their underwriters more information.  Treat the damage as a home maintenance issue.  In particular, make sure that you don’t allow small damage to grow.  For example, if you have a small leak in your roof, you can count on it getting larger.  Fix it early.  If your insurer discovers you allowed the small leak to progress to a larger one they could argue the damage grew from your negligence, not from a covered event. 

When there is major damage and you know a claim will be made, move early to limit the damage and to report it.  If the basement floods, don’t wait for the water to go down, do what you can to stop further flooding and call your agent or insurer immediately. Your agent or claims professional can help the information that will be needed to support your claim.  When you call, get a claim number, a contact name and a phone number for whoever will be handling your claim. 

Read your policy, and make sure you understand what is covered and what the company is supposed to provide.  For example, with major repairs, you may be entitled to alternate living arrangements while your home is repaired.  Learn what support will be provided and plan accordingly.  Your policy will not likely support an extended stay at the Four Seasons, but it should keep you out of a shelter.  You need to be aware of the benefits and the limits. 

Document the damage to your home.  You can take photos or videos of damage to rooms, walls or personal belongings as well as documenting exterior damage.  Don’t throw away damaged items, your insurance adjuster is likely to want to see these items; make an inventory of household items and note whether they are damaged, undamaged or missing.  If you have already made a household inventory before the damage has occurred, it may help your claim proceed more smoothly.  An inventory that includes pictures will give a before/after overview that can help the process greatly. 

Stay as calm as you can muster during the claims process.  With a major claim, things may proceed more slowly than you hope.  Talk with your agent or claims representative and try to get some expectation of a timetable and the steps in the claims process.  Don’t hesitate to call to check on progress if there are delays in the timetable; you can reset your expectations if there are explanations you can understand; you can also take steps if there are reasons for delay you do not understand.  In general, a claim will proceed most efficiently when all the parties have the information they require. 

At Homer Smith Insurance, we work with folks every day who need advice or help in claim situations.  Don’t hesitate to contact us for advice or support with your claim.

When you have an Auto Insurance Claim

Your insurer makes a promise to protect you against certain types of loss, but it can’t begin to help until it knows about a loss. Prompt notification in the event of a claim may be a formal policy requirement and failing to meet the obligation to report could impact your claim.  Generally, your insurance policy requires that you contact your agent or insurer as quickly as practical, identify yourself, usually by your full name and the policy number, and provide details of the circumstances creating the claim – the event or accident that took place.  Your insurer will need enough information to take action, what happened, when where, how and why. At some point, your insurer will want to have proof of loss and that often involves an inspection of damage in case of auto claims. 

When an auto accident takes place, there are actions that should be taken at the scene and actions that can wait till later.  First, assess the accident scene and if there is a suspicion of a medical emergency, call 911. If there is any suspicion that a party in the accident will need or want to seek medical attention, call the police directly even if you do not call 911. You will need a police report of the accident.  Always exchange license plate numbers, contact information and auto insurance information with the other parties involved while still at the scene.  Make sure to get phone numbers and, with cell phone cameras abounding, take a picture of the damage and the location. It may help recall or confirm events later. If there are witnesses, try to get their contact information as well.  Insurance companies are prone to believe the story they are given by their own policyholder and stories can change as participants in the accident remember the events.  The person who “wasn’t sure” they had stopped at the stop sign at the accident scene may be absolutely certain they did a few days later. 

Following the accident, contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible. These days, with a cell phone you can call from the scene and perhaps get some valuable guidance.  Don’t try to assess fault yourself.  It may be tempting to believe the person who says they will are at fault a will call their carrier to report.  You should file the claim with your own insurance carrier to make certain you get the service and protection you need.   You should also advise the other party’s insurance company that you’re pursuing a claim.  That will insure that all parties are aware of the accident. 

At some point in the process after notifying the carriers, you will be asked for your version of the events that led to the accident. You should prepare for this by writing down the facts as you remember them, assembling the names of witnesses and collecting any photos you may have made.  It is a good idea to check with your insurance carrier to see what statements you need to make to the other insurance carrier before it happens.  This is particularly important in claims involving injury.  Your statement should remain consistent because typically will be recorded.  Having recourse to your own written statement will help alleviate any confusion or contradictory statements.

In many cases, an insurer will send an adjuster to look at the damage to your vehicle and offer an estimate of what it will take to restore or replace it.  An adjuster may not be sent if an insurance company has a direct repair program.  In these programs, the carrier will refer you to a shop where damage claim estimate may be done by the shop itself. 

Issues can arise in this process. If you think the carrier’s settlement offer is low, you may ask carrier for a form of arbitration to resolve the dispute. In many cases, the insurance company will pay you the amount it offered immediately and the rest is offered when and if the dispute is resolved in your favor.

Most claims are straightforward and are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.  When you have questions, or when issues arise in the claims process, your first call should be to your Washington auto insurance agent.  They have the experience and understanding to help guide you through any issues that arise and, as they are your agent, they are there to look out for your interests.

Today in History – The Challenger Shuttle Disaster

Many of us here on the peninsula are old enough to remember the days of rocketry even before Sputnik and the space race.  For some it was exciting growing up in a period when rockets were becoming instruments of exploration.  President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon was fulfilled and we were fascinated to see the US and the world moving forward toward the space frontier like a Star Trek adventure.

On Saturday, January 28, 1986, the space race changed and the reality of our adventure came home in a big way.  This January 28 will mark the 26th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly after its liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

The explosion was a particular shock because the successes of earlier missions had begun to lend a sense of routine to the affair. People still tuned in for the lift offs, but the safety record was such that a place had been made on this mission for a special space traveler.  Christa McAuliffe was a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire who had won a competition to gain a place on the crew of the Challenger.  Ms. McAuliffe took months of shuttle training to qualify to become the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space and interest in this flight was particularly high.

The road to liftoff had not been smooth.  The shuttle was scheduled for launch January 23 but weather and technical problems forced repeated delays.  The Challenger’s launch finally took place on January 28 and the flight lasted seventy-three seconds before the shuttle exploded in a plume of smoke and fire. There were no survivors.

Millions of us watched the tragedy unfold on live television and millions more listened on radio in offices across the nation. The event was literally unthinkable and unbelievable.

The Challenger explosion dealt a major blow to NASA. The shuttle program was grounded for nearly three years after the disaster while NASA investigated. The investigation revealed the disaster could have been prevented.  The result was changes in parts of the shuttle design. 

Of course ultimately the program recovered and the lessons learned were applied to try to make future voyages safer.    Here at Homer Smith Insurance we aren’t doing rocket science, but we are here to help you identify your risks, whether in business, home or auto and find you the best Washing State Insurance options to help manage those risks.

Your Insurance Umbrella

If you run a business, you should understand the benefits and potential limitations of excess liability insurance also generally called commercial or business umbrella insurance. This secondary “excess liability” policy protects business owners from lawsuits with settlements that exceed their general business policies. Some businesses where large numbers of people gather and there is a potential for harm are at especially high risk of being sued for large amounts- bars, restaurants, and large office buildings are examples. 

In any business, accidents can happen that may not be directly your fault, but a court may decide that you are responsible for the financial damages. Excess liability insurance usually covers a variety of situations, including personal injury, contractual liability, liquor law liability, and extension of coverage to other insured parties like employees and business partners. It kicks in when the limits of your primary liability are used up. It’s an important coverage that can potentially save you thousands. Umbrella insurance policies often start at a $1 million limit and increase from there, depending on your assets and risk.

Any liability policy, including commercial liability umbrella has to restrict its coverage to handling the type of losses it was created for.  Typically these policies contain provision that govern losses involving contractual liability. Like a real umbrella in a rainstorm, you stay dry when you stay under the umbrella.  In other words, you need to be careful when considering extending contractual protection to others under the assumption it will be covered.  Umbrella policies may ignore losses created by an agreement an insured makes with other parties, particularly if that agreement is for activities unrelated to the company’s business purpose.  For example, a cleaning company may agree to be responsible for any injury or damage that occurs while their employees are at work on a company premises.  If the cleaning crew is in the building at a time the third party vandalizes part of the premises, the umbrella insurer may not defend the claim under a contractual liability exclusion. 

A commercial liability umbrella is written to control the loss exposures that it covers and designed to deal with the realities of the business world. Your umbrella policy limits and terms can vary across different insurance providers and you may want help determining which policy is best for you.  At Homer Smith Insurance, we can help you find appropriate business insurance in Washington.  We will discuss your company’s budget and specifics to help you determine if excess liability is right for your business and work hard to find you the right coverage at the right price.  . We want you to be confident that your company is well-protected and have the peace of mind that comes with having appropriate excess liability protection.

What Type of Natural Disasters Does Washington Home Insurance Cover?

Damage from a Seattle earthquake

No matter where you live in the world, you are not safe from Mother Nature and the Evergreen State is no exception. This is one of the reasons obtaining and maintaining a Washington home insurance policy is so vital. What sort of natural disasters will you need coverage for? Washington State actually experiences quite a few because of its unique geographic position and composition.

  • The most deadly natural disasters in the state are avalanches, which have taken the lives of almost 200 people in the past century.
  • Did you know Washington State boasts five volcanoes – Glacier Peak, Mount St Helens, Mount Baker, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainer? While these volcanoes can lay dormant for centuries, there is always the potential for one to erupt.
  • Over 1,000 earthquakes shake the state each year, but most of them are not felt.
  • The state is also at risk for tsunamis, which can be caused by earthquakes elsewhere. Residents on the Pacific Coast, Puget Sound, or Strait of Juan de Fuca may be especially at risk.
  • Flooding can also plague the state. Flooding probably causes the most damage to the homes and businesses of Washington State residents out of all the dangers threatened by Mother Nature.

Before settling for a typical Washington home insurance policy, it is vital to consider how much risk the above natural disasters pose to your house and your family. Individuals who do not take the time to consider their unique danger could find themselves weighed down by a hefty repair bill because they lacked adequate insurance coverage.

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AROUND HERE – SEQUIM

Sequim today has about 6600 people and has grown about 50% since 2000 – growing faster in this last decade than either Port Angeles its neighbor to the west, or Port Townsend to the east.  Sequim has become a favored destination for retirees and currently over 40% of the Sequim population is 65 or older. 

Sequim is in the southwest quadrant of the Olympic Rain Shadow and benefits from this geographic phenomenon with only about 16 inches of rain per year.  It rests in a valley known as the Dungeness-Sequim Valley which is a fertile and workable agricultural area.  It is home now to Nash Farms and other local farming operations.  Nash Huber recently took fifth place in a nationwide contest to designate a farmer to turn the five acre, south-facing White House lawn into a fruit and vegetable garden.  The farm, and the peninsula in general, have been leaders in the local food movement. 

The Sequim area was settled in the 1850’s when settlers arrived at “New Dungeness” to farm and log the area.  The town’s growth early on was tied to the Puget Sound area, shipping potatoes, wheat, oats, peas, apples, and dressed meat to other Puget Sound ports. Hops were evidently a major cash crop that went to supply Port Townsend breweries.

The City of Sequim was incorporated in October 1913 and Jilson White became its first mayor.  The town installed a water system in 1922 and a sewer system in 1936.  The Clyde Rhodefer Library was built with Public Works Administration funds on land donated by the Progressive Club of Sequim in 1936.  The name Sequim has always been attributed to a S’Klallam derivation.  For many years Sequim was said to be from the S’Klallam for “quiet waters,” but in recent years tribal linguists have suggested the name derives from “place for going to shoot,” a reference to Sequim Bay. 

One of the most prominent of landmarks in Sequim is the Dungeness Spit – the longest natural sand spit in the United States.  The spit extends 5 miles into the Strait of Juan De Fuca and is a living organism – it has grown about 15 feet per year for the past 120 years.  Out of the wind and wave action it has even formed a subsidiary hook called Graveyard Spit. 

 The spit is one major local tourist attraction.  It is of special interest to bird watchers and hikers.  The spit is flat and sandy and attracts many hikers at all seasons.  The inner spit is an estuary that is home to thousands of waterfowl; the outer stretch is strewn with drift logs and you can see harbor seals or if you are a birder, heron, eagles, loons, grebes, murrelets, puffins, harlequin ducks, scaup and black brant, among other species. 

Other attractions in Sequim are the Lavendar Farms and the Sequim Elk; both abound. Since the farms stay put, you can see them at any time; the elk show up rather unannounced, but are always welcome sights.

As a Washington insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance proudly serves the Sequim area and appreciates its history, attractions and community spirit. 

Commercial General Liability and Contractual Liability

Businesses can be held civilly and criminally accountable for their actions.  A business that harms another party, damages or destroys property belonging to another party can be sued or prosecuted. Savvy business owners protect against liability to third parties with a Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy.  The Commercial General Liability policy is a standard insurance policy issued to business organizations to protect them against liability claims for bodily injury and property damage arising out of premises, operations, products, and completed operations, as well as advertising and personal injury liability.

CGL insurance is designed to cover a given business that is described within the policy.  That is difficult enough in itself.  Even a small business engaged in activities that may be potentially risky to the environment pose a significant underwriting problem.  The insurer who provides a CGL must make some assumptions about the type of losses it is willing to cover and these relate closely to the operation of the business. One issue that can create contention in a CGL is contractual liability. Contractual liability confounds a CGL policy by extending the liability in ways the underwriters never intended.  It occurs when a covered business voluntarily agrees (in writing) to take over someone else’s responsibility.

CGL’s are designed and underwritten on the assumption that they are concerned only with the party that is listed on the policy. Taking on another business’ liability through a contractual arrangement means that the policy is being asked to either defend or pay for the injuries or damages caused by an entity that it doesn’t “know” – and generally at no additional premium. Understandably, most, CGLs exclude instances of contractual liability. 

If your company is being asked to step in to indemnify another company against a loss it, it is a situation requiring care.  You may be able to take care of the situation by endorsing your CGL to add the name of the other party as an additional insured. Or, if your insured company is a property owner and the other party is a contractor, you may be able to buy a special form of coverage called Owners and Contractors Protective Liability.  However, not every situation may be covered and you need to read the Policy language to determine what situations are insured. The contractual arrangement under a CGL has to be related to the type of operation insured by such policies. So, if you have a retail shop, hire a plumber and agree to cover their business if they are sued, your CGL policy may not help, because the written agreement has no relationship to your operations.

Before taking on any business relationships that may change your liability or risk, discuss your situation with your business insurance professional in Washington to be sure that you, your business and your related liability are handled efficiently and economically. This may mean that the best strategy for you is to have each party take care of their own insurance needs.

Stay safe in winter storms

A local news report last week said a friend of a Hoquiam family may have saved five lives Sunday night by discovering they had carbon-monoxide poisoning.  Evidently, the family was running a generator in the basement and when the friend smelled fumes he called 911.  All five family members were hospitalized for treatment.  Every year, there are deaths and injuries due to winter weather related hazards.  Carbon Monoxide poisoning is one significant problem with over a thousand deaths recorded in Washington state alone between 1990 and 2005.  There are other weather related problems though and it is worth a few minutes of review to help you keep your family and your home safe. 

Before the power goes out, you should have assembled a power-outage kit – flashlights and batteries, a lantern, matches, a wind-up clock, a portable radio, a Mylar blanket and a can opener are handy items to include in a kit.  When the power does go out, there are a number of things to think about. First, if you have a generator, keep it outdoors when running and make sure the exhaust is not near a window or other opening to the home.  Keep the exhaust and muffler away from and combustible materials.  Gas-fueled equipment produces carbon monoxide, a poisonous odorless gas that cannot be seen or smelled and can kill a person in minutes.  Using it indoors –including the basement or garage – is extremely dangerous.  If you use a gas powered generator at all, be familiar with the symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning.  They include headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, confusion and nausea. If you even suspect poisoning get all affected people moved to fresh air immediately.

Don’t overload your generator and don’t plug it into a household outlet.  If there are people trying to fix power lines and you plug your generator into your household outlet, the electricity can travel back over the unpowered line and become a danger to those working.

If you have a space heater, use only types designed for indoors and make sure it is adequately vented to avoid carbon-monoxide poisoning. Keep all space heaters away from curtains and clothing and turn off the heaters before going to bed or leaving home. 

Food is likely to be a problem when the power is out and a common solution is the barbeque grill.  Do your barbequing on the deck – same place you do in the summer.  Charcoal, in particular, produces toxic fumes that can kill quickly.

Try to protect your heat AND your cold. A house will stay warm on retained heat for some time.  Minimize your going in and out to retain as much warmth as possible.  For the same reason, keep your refrigerator door closed.  The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours and a freezer (unopened) for 24 to 48 hours. If you power is out for longer periods, consider getting some dry ice to help keep the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees and the freezer cold enough to maintain frozen food.  Frozen food is generally regarded as safe so long as there are still ice crystals in the food.  Past that point (and within the period you would normally keep thawed food in your refrigerator), cook it or throw it away.

Your hot water tank will keep water warm for some time.  Extend the period of availability by using hot water sparingly.  You should also turn off most electrical devices – electric stoves and electric space heaters in particular, and unplug electrical equipment like computers or TV’s.  When the electricity comes back on, you could get a surge that might harm sensitive equipment.  Leave a light switched on, though, so you’ll know when the power returns.

Dress in layers for warmth as you would going outside and cover your head to keep that warm. You can close off any unused rooms and close drapes to prevent drafts and heat escaping.

Try to protect your pipes from freezing.  Insulate pipes you can reach.  Open cupboard doors to help whatever heat is in the house to reach the pipes and, consider letting water drip from inside and outside taps.  The last thing you need after a household power outage is having to use your Washington home insurance to take care of preventable damages.

Do you need to go in the snow? Part 2

In Part 1 of this series we talked about preparing your car in the event you needed to drive in the snow.  While we want to reiterate that a warm house and a cup of something hot is a better alternative than venturing out, sometimes you just need to go. Here are some tips for doing that as safely as you can. 

Before you set off, make sure your car is ready.  Warm the car up to operating temperature, run your heater and defroster and clean the windows, windshield and side mirrors.  Visibility is one of your best friends in winter driving.  Test your wipers and make sure the wiper fluid is working – it can freeze in cold weather if you don’t have an anti-freeze type in your system.  

When starting in snow or ice, avoid spinning your tires. Just gently press the gas pedal until the car starts to roll.  Start out slowly to get the feel of the road and discreetly test your steering control and braking ability.  There is no such thing as a “safe” speed you can drive at on snow or ice; it is entirely dependent on the conditions YOU (not the guy next to you in the 4WD) are experiencing.  You have to be careful to find out how much traction you have and how your vehicle is responding to starts, stops and turns before you need to test those capabilities in an emergency.  You can do this by going slowly in a safe and familiar spot and testing you’re braking to get a sense of traction and steering one way and another to make sure you can maintain control.  Adjust your speed to correspond with conditions and, if conditions change, slow down 

and repeat the process.  Maintain your familiarity with road conditions all the time.  Turning and stopping even in predictable areas requires attention.  Consider starting to slow down three times sooner than you normally would when turning or stopping – more in really bad circumstances.

Keep a safe interval between you and the car ahead of you considering road conditions.  You may assume you can stop as quickly as the guy in front of you, but if he hits something immovable – he stops, you don’t.  Many rear-end crashes happen needlessly on icy streets because drivers forget to leave stopping space.

When you do need to stop, pump the brake gently and don’t jerk the steering wheel.  If you lock your brakes on glazed ice, it is likely to cause a loss of steering and control.  Modern cars often have ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes) which can help when braking.  However, ABS is not a complete solution to the problem of stopping on snow or ice.  Consider the following: 

“Effects of Snow on ABS:  The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) explained in a comprehensive report that ABS increases stopping distances on surfaces covered with gravel, snow, or other loose materials. In such situations, a locked tire digs into the snow or gravel, pushing it forward and forming a wedge in front of the tire, which brings the vehicle to a stop. Since ABS works by preventing the skid, that wedge never forms, though the driver’s ability to steer may be restored.

Effects of Ice on ABS:  On roads that are partially covered by ice, ABS can help the driver stop and steer the vehicle more effectively, provided he keeps the brake pedal depressed, and does not pump the brakes. Under severe conditions when the entire road is covered with ice, all four wheels may lock simultaneously. Unless at least one wheel is turning, the ABS will react as if the vehicle has stopped. When this occurs, the ABS is defeated, and the driver will need to go back to the pumping technique.”

Every mile of highway here on the Peninsula may be different, depending upon sun or shade, exposure to wind, the surface of the roadway and highway maintenance.  Sand and salt play a role in keeping roads safe. The spreading of road salt prevents snow and ice from bonding to the road surface and sand does not melt, so it helps provide traction – particularly on hills, curves, bridges, intersections and on snow-packed roads.

If you see a snowplow on the roadways, they are generally moving slower than regular traffic.  Pass with extreme caution.  Your sight lines and visibility near a working snowplow are often severely restricted by blowing snow and you will be moving from a known condition behind the plow to an unknown condition in front of it. 

Finally, around here, you need to watch carefully for “black ice.”  While you don’t generally expect to see black ice during a snowstorm the same cold that produces snow can contribute to the forming of black ice when it is not snowing.  It is a thin layer of water that is transparent enough to reflect the color of the roadway underneath it.  It can form after a snowstorm when the snow covering the roadway thaws, then refreezes.  Treat any shiny patch on the surface of the roadway as though it may be ice; sometimes it is.

As your Washington auto insurance agent, we at Homer Smith Insurance would like to wish you a safe trip during the snows and remind you that if you do need to drive in the snow, drive as though your life depended upon it.  It may.

What You Should Know About Burglaries and Your Washington Home Insurance

Your Washington home insurance may cover burglaries and your insurer may also offer discounts for steps you take to prevent such crimes at your home. To better understand what you are up against, let’s consider some common characteristics among thieves.

What motivates an individual to break into someone elses home and take their belongings? There are a variety of motives but some of the most common include the need for money, the excitement, and revenge.

Many people turn to stealing goods as a way to handle their addictions such as drugs and gambling. Unfortunately, they are stuck in nasty cycle of gaining the funds to get what they need and wasting it on the same bad choices.

Because many of the people who commit these crimes are unstable or desperate, the consequences of their actions are not always considered before they commit the deed. This could be caused by their drug or alcohol abuse, or psychological issues.

In many of the burglaries committed in America, the perpetrator is familiar with his or her victim in some way. Common types of contact include living in the same neighborhood, coming to the targeted house to perform services or maintenance, or being causal acquaintances of the victim or someone the victim knows.

In the event that you return home to find a burglar on your premises, you should avoid a confrontation, exit quickly and call for help. A confrontation is likely to put you at risk of injury and your safety is always more important than your possessions – your Washington home insurance can help you to replace those!

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