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Storm-related insurance claims: What to do before and after

Friday - 6/20/2014, 4:30am  ET

tree into house (WTOP/Kristi King)
A tree crashed into a residence in the Belle View neighborhood of Fairfax County during storms early Thursday morning. (WTOP/Kristi King)
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Need a tree removed? Don't hire just anyone

WTOP's Kristi King reports

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- As severe summer storms move through the area, there's a chance you will find yourself filing an insurance claim for damage to your home.

If Mother Nature's fury sends a tree limb crashing, you should first clear the limbs and cover any holes before the next storm moves in.

"If there was damage, go through and decrease the likelihood of further damage," says Max Olson, with the Olsen Insurance Agency in Arlington.

"Most policies say you have a duty to go through and mitigate further damage."

Next, call your insurance agent or company to come out and look at the house.

"They're going to go through and create an inventory," says Olsen.

Then, based on the inventory, the company will figure out how much money it will pay out.

Olsen says most mistakes happen not after the storm, but before it, when the policy is drawn up. Some homeowners, for example, get a big surprise when the basement floods.

"If you have a sump pump in your basement and that sump pump just fails -- doesn't work -- or if the sewer line backs up, if you don't have water backup coverage ... it's likely [the insurance company] isn't going to pay for any of the damages."

The blame game also can create problems between neighbors after a serious storm. A storm is considered an "act of God" so if a neighbor's tree falls on your house, it could be your problem.

"It kind of leaves you a little bit vulnerable because you can't do too much about it since it's not on your property, but you will still be responsible for repairing your house," Olson said.

Only if the tree were dead prior to the storm, and there is proof the neighbor knew it should be removed, can anyone expect the neighbor to cover the repairs.

Olson says for your records it is always a good idea to take pictures and video of the damage, but it's even more important before the storm comes in. Proof of what the area looked like before the claim helps smooth out the process.

"Going around with a video camera or a smartphone, for example, and taking pictures and videos of the house, just showing what your inventory is, is helpful," he says.

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