When you file a property loss insurance claim as a homeowner or business owner, you typically have a number of post-loss responsibilities that you must meet in order to prevent your insurance company from justifiably denying your claim. If you have lost certain items entirely – whether due to being swept away or stolen – one of these obligations will be to submit an inventory of lost items to your insurance company.
But, most homeowners do not maintain comprehensive documentation of their personal items, and many business owners will struggle to pull together records of every single item in their possession. After all, you are trying to document what isn’t there, and this presents some obvious challenges.
Documenting Property Loss for an Insurance Claim
In cases of total property loss, homeowner’s and commercial property insurance policies will typically require the policyholder to submit an inventory of the lost items for which coverage is sought. The specific requirements for this inventory will vary from one type of policy (and one insurance company) to the next. Property insurance companies may request other forms of documentation as well (such as receipts, copies of cashed checks and a copy of the police report in cases of theft), and policyholders typically must comply in order to secure coverage.
These requirements, however, are not always as clear as the insurance companies intend them to be. A recent federal court case illustrates this point. In TBL Collectibles, Inc. v. Owners Ins. Co., the insured was the owner of a retail collectibles store that experienced a theft. The thief stole a safe which contained cash and collectible coins. The store owner did not maintain complete records of its inventory purchases; and, as a result, it did not have pre-existing proof of ownership in order to submit with its property loss claim.
Along with its claim, the store owner submitted a handwritten inventory of the stolen coins created from memory, as well as copies of bank statements which showed a pattern of buying coins (though they did not reflect the specific coins included on the inventory). The insurance company denied the store owners’ claim with respect to the coins, claiming that the post-loss inventory did not adequately “substantiate the specific coins” included in the claim. The store owner sued for coverage, and the court ultimately ruled in the store owner’s favor. According to the court, while the insurance company,
“argue[d] that [the store owner’s] documentation does not substantiate the existence and ownership of the exact coins stolen . . . [it] fail[ed] to identify any express or implied term in the insurance policy requiring an insured to provide that level of proof in support of a claim.”
In other words, the language of the insurance policy was not sufficient to deny coverage based on the lack of pre-existing documentation. Under the court’s interpretation of the policy language, the store owner’s post-loss handwritten inventory – coupled with its proven history of purchasing items similar to those lost – was adequate to satisfy the policy’s conditions for coverage.
Insurance Claim Lawyers for Property Owners in Broward County, FL
Saavedra | Goodwin is a Broward County, FL law firm that represents homeowners and business owners in disputes with their insurance companies. If you are struggling to obtain coverage, or if you disagree with your insurer’s interpretation of the terms of your policy, we encourage you to call (954) 767-6333 or contact us online for a confidential consultation.