What to know when filing an insurance claim, from spoiled food to fallen trees

Residents assessing damage from Post-Tropical Storm Fiona are encouraged to contact their insurer immediately and do what they can to document the destruction.

The powerful storm brought intense winds and storm surges that downed trees and power lines and inundated some homes. Tens of thousands of Nova Scotia Power customers are still without power.

Earlier this week, the province announced emergency financial assistance for those affected by the storm.

Jennifer MacLeod, Vice-President of the Insurance Brokers Association of Nova Scotia, spoke with CBC Radio Information morning Wednesday on what people’s insurance typically covers and how they can begin the process of filing a claim.

MacLeod’s conversation with host Portia Clark has been edited for clarity and length.

Listen to the full interview here:

Information Morning – N.S.8:41What should you know before filing a storm-related insurance claim?

Many people across Atlantic Canada are assessing property damage and purchasing their insurance policies in the aftermath of Post-Tropical Storm Fiona. Jenn MacLeod of the Insurance Brokers Association of Nova Scotia joins us to discuss some of the most common concerns.

What are the most common reasons people call?

I took a look at our over 300 calls, emails, etc. that we had [Sept. 26] and we see a lot of roofs collapsing, structures collapsing. There was a lot of damage from fallen trees. Loss of food in refrigerators and freezers. We are seeing water damage to structures along the shoreline, and we hear a lot about damaged or even blown out fences and decks.

Of all these problems, what is usually covered by insurance and what is not after a hurricane?

This is actually a harder question to answer because coverage is truly unique for each individual policy, and no two companies have exactly the same wordings. But one of the things that might surprise you is trees and shrubs, for example, they are not covered for wind damage. They are covered for other damage, but not for wind, so we were very relieved to learn that the provincial government, through the disaster assistance program, provides coverage for uninsurable losses, including including trees.

Wind damage from Post-Tropical Storm Fiona and storm surge on Generation Lane in Marshville, NS (Kathy Little)

OK, so if a contractor hits your tree by accident, while doing work on the house, could that be covered somehow?

It can be covered, but not if it’s downwind.

It is complicated.

He is. It really does, and that’s why, on behalf of the brokers association, I really advocate that consumers speak with a knowledgeable and educated broker, because they will make sure to explain these things to you. They will also help you determine which one is important to you so that when the worst happens, on the day you need to call, you have the right coverage in place… This is something we experience every day , people who don’t understand the implications of their policy and what the wordings cover.

Trees and shrubs, for example, are not covered against wind damage. They are covered for other damage, but not for wind.– Jennifer MacLeod, Insurance Brokers Association of Nova Scotia

Back to the trees. You’re not covered for wind damage to the tree, but if the tree falls on your home or vehicle, is that usually covered by most people’s policies?

Generally yes, the structure collapses accordingly [of something else]. Insurance is a little weird that way too. There’s a term called « resultant damage », which captures things that happen as a result of something else. The original thing may not be covered, but the resulting damage might be.

Let’s go inside the fridge. You mentioned that food spoilage would be covered, but are there any conditions attached to this?

There can be. Typically, with food spoilage, this would fall under your homeowner’s policy, so depending on how you’ve set up your policy, your deductible could be quite high. So if you don’t suffer any other property loss, filing a food loss claim may not make sense. You know, if you have a $1,000 deductible and you just need to replace your perishables in your fridge, maybe it doesn’t make sense to present that as a claim.

damaged cottage marshville n s
Ian and Cathy Scott survey the damage to their family cabin near Marshville, N.S. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Are there any steps people should take when assessing damage right now?

When something like this happens, we encourage everyone to do everything they can immediately to safely protect the home or car from further damage. If there are live wires, if there is anything like that, please move away.

But if you can shut off your electricity and gas supplies and take corrective action until the contractors can get there, that will really help. Especially if you have water present, you really don’t want to risk getting mold and further water damage, so if there’s a way to safely drain it, it’s always encouraged. We recommend that you contact and call your broker or insurance company directly as soon as such a situation arises so that they can initiate the process.

pictou lodge fiona damage fiona
Pictou Lodge suffered extensive damage, with roofs torn off and power lines cut. (Robert Short/CBC)

If you do not have the documents to file a claim, such as if you had to leave your home quickly and cannot enter. What are you doing?

Again, you can contact your broker. We can take steps to ensure that we speak with our policyholders and we can provide them with copies of their insurance policies, their policy numbers, we can transfer these to the insurance company. We will do everything in our power to help our policyholders at this time.


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