How Long Can You Wait To File A Homeowner’s Insurance Claim?

How Long Can You Wait To File A Homeowner’s Insurance Claim

How long can you wait to file a homeowner’s insurance claim? This question is not asked often, but it can have serious financial consequences if you don’t understand the implications of timely claim reporting.

Throughout my insurance career I have reminded people that it is extremely important to read their insurance contracts. It’s not nearly as interesting as a good mystery novel, but it is critical to do before a loss occurs. In addition to understanding what is covered, you should also determine what requirements the contract places on you, the insured.

Why is this an important topic? If your insurance company proves that you are not in compliance with a condition in your homeowner insurance policy (a legal contract), your claim may be denied.

Before I delve into specific examples of late claim reporting, let’s briefly review a homeowner’s insurance contract – the standard Insurance Services Office (ISO) Homeowners 3 – Special Form policy. For ease, I will use “HO-3” to reference the homeowner insurance contract. Please remember that individual insurance companies will use slightly different language for their loss reporting requirements, so be sure to read your policy or ask your insurance agent for clarification.

The ISO HO-3 has a subsection entitled, “Duties After Loss.” Older homeowner contracts use may “Duties after Occurrence.” They are similar, but not identical. Let’s review the first requirement of “Duties After Loss,” which is located in the Conditions section of our HO-3 homeowners policy. Regarding the timing for filing a claim, the underlined sentence below is crucial.

Duties After Loss

In case of a loss to covered property, we have no duty to provide coverage under this policy if the failure to comply with the following duties is prejudicial to us. These duties must be performed either by you, an “insured” seeking coverage, or a representative of either:

  1.      Give prompt notice to us or our agent

In our policy the requirement is to “Give prompt notice to us or our agent.” In other homeowner contacts you may have seen similarly worded requirements such as:

  •         “Give written notice to us or our agent as soon as is practical”
  •         “Give written notice to us or our agent as soon as practicable”
  •         “Give immediate notice to us or our agent”
  •         “Give prompt written notice to us of the facts relating to the claim”

Each of these phrases can be – and have been – interpreted in various ways by insurance companies and by courts during litigation.

For our HO-3, what does “prompt” mean? The Oxford Dictionary states;

Prompt (adj)

Done without delay; immediate. (Of a person) acting without delay

Synonyms:

quick, swift, rapid, speedy, fast, direct, immediate, instant, expeditious, early, punctual, in good time, on time, timely

For the most part, this seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a loss you must advise your insurance company or agent “promptly.” Typically this is not a problem. As an example, if after a severe thunderstorm, you see that a large tree branch has fallen onto and damaged your porch, you call the insurer and report the claim. Easy.

But what if a loss isn’t quite as clear-cut? Here are several examples.

  1.      During a wild and windy thunderstorm, the large oak tree right next to your house snapped and blew down. From all the noise you believe the falling tree may have struck the house. The next morning, after the storm, you inspect the house and fallen tree. Luckily you do not discover any damage to the house. That noise must have been the snapping of the tree trunk. As a result you have no reason to call your insurance company.
  1.      Your daughter Mary is celebrating her 7th birthday. She invited a small group of her friends and their parents over for a party. While playing tag in the backyard, Mary’s friend Ann trips, falls and hits her head on the picnic table. Although Ann has a shallow cut and big bump, Ann’s mom tells Mary’s mom, “It’s not a big deal and Ann will be just fine.” You see no reason to contact your insurance company.
  1.      Your dog Pal, a 65-pound Golden Retriever, nips your neighbor’s 11-year-old son, Joey, when he taunts the dog with some food. You see the incident and immediately take Joey to his parent’s house. Joey’s dad listens to your story, looks at his son’s hand and then says, “Don’t worry about it – it’s just a scratch. He knows better than to tease the dog.” You don’t see any reason to report the incident to your insurance company.

The Homeowner’s contract claim reporting requirements are in place to protect both the insurance company and the insured. By providing prompt notice, the insurance company can determine whether any additional investigation or follow-ups are necessary or warranted.

At first glance it seems reasonable not to report these three claims to the insurance company. But let’s dig a bit deeper.

  1.      Although you could not see any falling tree damage to your house, you did think you heard something unusual during the storm. And indeed there was damage on the roof, but not in sight from the ground. Six weeks after the first storm there was another. This time there was very little wind but there was torrential rain, which lasted several hours. During this second storm you notice your second floor bedroom ceiling and wall are totally drenched, with water dripping and pooling on the hardwood floors. You immediately call your insurance company. They send a repair crew to find and stop the leak and to complete initial water cleanup and mitigation, including removal of wall and ceiling drywall to prevent mold. The crew supervisor advises you that there was a two-inch diameter oak branch driven through the roof and that was what allowed the rain to flow in.
  1.      Several weeks after Ann’s fall her dad notices that the bump and cut are not healing and, in fact, look significantly worse. Ann’s parents bring her to the Emergency Room to have the injury treated. The ER doctor determined there were several large splinters imbedded in the wound and it had become seriously infected. The ER doctor was able to remove the wood fragments, but he needed to perform several significant incisions to do so. He sutured the cuts as best he could. Ann’s mom & dad were horrified that Ann may now have a large scar on her forehead – for life. The doctor suggests that Ann’s parents schedule Ann for an appointment with a plastic surgeon. Eight weeks later Ann’s parents present you with large medical bills from the hospital and from the plastic surgeon. You call your insurance company.
  1.   Two months have passed since Pal bit your neighbor, Joey. Surprisingly, you have not seen Joey or his parents during that time. Then in the mail you receive an envelope from a local law firm, with notice of a lawsuit against you. The suit, filed by Joey’s parents on his behalf, alleges that since the dog bite incident Joey has been afraid of all dogs and is frightened to go outside by himself. You are being sued for medical bills and damages for pain, mental anxiety, permanent scarring, and punitive damages. You immediately call your homeowner’s insurance company.

These three seemingly innocuous incidents have now exposed you to potentially large financial loss. If the occurrences had been reported to the insurance company immediately, they would very likely be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. But because nothing was initially reported to the insurer, there is now potential for coverage to be denied.

There is a reasonable chance that your insurance company will cover the roof damage and subsequent water damage, even though the roof damage was not promptly reported. This is because you could not know or see that the falling tree branch went through your roof unless you climbed up on the second story roof, which you cannot practically be expected to do. However, by not reporting and/or inspecting after the first storm, a simple roof repair turned into a significantly more expensive home remodeling and restoration claim.

The two injury claim examples may or may not be covered by your policy. It is dependent upon the insurance company’s interpretation of prompt notice of loss. Unlike the hidden roof damage in the first example, you were immediately aware of the injuries sustained by Ann and by Joey.  Even though both of the children’s parents said that everything was OK, that does not absolve you, the homeowner, from liability. In each of these cases, had they been reported to your insurer immediately, the company would have followed up to ensure the children were OK or would have gotten them additional medical care as necessary. Now there are many more bills and a lawsuit to contend with.

So, how long can you wait to file a homeowner’s claim? Or, asked differently, should you wait to file a claim? Most people do not want to file an insurance claim. It can be a hassle and it may even cause your future insurance rates to rise. However, at the end of the day the reason for homeowner’s insurance is to protect you and your family from catastrophic financial loss.  This insurance professional will tell you that there is simply too much risk for anyone to delay or wait to file a homeowner’s claim.  Promptly means promptly, so when in doubt, file the claim immediately.

Other Enhanced Insurance articles related to Home Claims:

Insuring Your Pet’s Safety: Dog Bite Claims

What Is the Difference between an Independent and Company Adjusters

How Much Out-of-Pocket Would it Cost to Rebuild My Home after a Total Loss

Will I Get Reimbursed for Personal Property in My Home

Does Homeowner’s Insurance Pay Off Your Mortgage If the House Is Lost?

Does Homeowner’s Insurance Cover Theft from a Vehicle?

Home Water Damage Insurance

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Mold Losses?

Enhanced Insurance is not written by attorneys. If you’re looking for legal advice, you need to contact a lawyer. Further, insurance practices and forms change constantly and are varied from state to state. For definitive answers in your area, contact a local agent.

While the majority of people want an agent involved in their purchase of insurance, many people want to see if they can save money by buying direct from the insurance company. Others want to try a direct quote to make sure the premium they’re now paying through their local agent is fair. If you want a quote for your coverage, click on the competitive quote button on the right side of this page.

Jonathan Farris is a retired insurance executive and president of InsuranceRescue Services, LLC, a property & casualty insurance consulting firm based in Madison, Wisconsin. Mr. Farris can be reached at jon@insurancerescue.com.

14 comments on “How Long Can You Wait To File A Homeowner’s Insurance Claim?

  1. I have a question about a homeowners claim. a year and a half ago we had a power serge that damaged our geothermal furnace. we called the insurance company and made a claim as we called the heating and cooling guys to come fix it. they replace a module that was fried by the power serge. less then a year later our furnace stopped working. we called them out again and they told us we needed a new furnace. 10,000 was what it cost for a new one. We payed for it no questions asked, but we went with a different company then we had used for the first one. I am a nurse and I talk to my patients. I’ve taken care of many heating and cooling guys that tell me all the same thing. the first company should have replace the whole system. there was no way that they would be able to tell if there was anymore damage without pulling completely apart, which they did not. I stood there and watched them fix it. Our electrical usage doubled last year prior to the year before, which by the way was very colder then last year. It didn’t seem right. and since the new one we are back down to using 1/2 the energy then we had after the power serge. can I go back and claim it on my insurance?

    • It is extremely hard to answer this without direct contact, but in general it sounds like you should contact your insurance company and ask for the claim to be reopened. Proof of damage is on you. Without pictures or some evidence of the original furnace being damaged by the power surge it is hard to claim the loss is the responsibility of the insurance company. Getting the claim re-opened is the first step.If you have an agent, discuss this with them.

  2. On January 18 2015 I moved to my sisters house. That day I fell down basement stairs I didn’t have insurance so I didn’t go to Er 3 months later to the emergency room and had a fractured bone in my shoulder then I applied for medical help can I still file a claim on my sisters home owner insurance I am still getting steroid shots in my shoulder it still hurts a lot it will be 2 years on the 18 Of January.please let me know what I can do thanks

  3. If you recently moved into a property, two/three months in a storm hits and takes the tree down from the yard near missing the neighbours car. At the time they said they weren’t going to do anything about it but are now talking about it 12 months later…can they do this?

    • In most states they would have at least two years to file a claim. If they expressed to you that they definitely were not going to file a claim and that statement weakens your ability to defend yourself, they mat have prejudiced their claim. In any case, notify your agent and he will get things in motion to have your company defend you. Try to keep your head about this. Your neighbor knows that you have homeowners insurance and doesn’t think of it as some sort of attack upon you.

      Good luck.

      Jim

  4. In Texas is there a deadline to file a claim on a hail storm?its coming up on one year now and storm season will be starting again. Wandering if I can wait or need to file now and put the work on hold that way I wouldn’t be losing and depreciation value. So how long do I have to claim and and how long do I have to get the work done after the claim is made?

  5. We live in Arizona and our home was built in 1969. We have a toilet back up into our house and come to find out that the old cast iron pipe has worn and has rocks and other debris causing. State farm says that since pipe is, get this, outside of home, more than 12 inches below flooring that they won’t cover anything to dig up and replace the 20ft of old broken piping, which I’ve been quoted $9k. They will only pay to remediate the cat 3 sewage water leak damage.
    First, can I fight this through litigation? Second, my remediation company tells me that other insurance companies will cover most of this, like allstate or usaa, can I switch companies and file new claim? Or what other options are available?

    • I’m sorry you’ve had this problem. I don’t have State Farm’s policy form and cannot comment on the issue other than to say if you feel the claim should be paid you can hire and attorney or call your state insurance department. You might also talk to your agent and ask for a full explanation.

      Changing companies to get the claim covered will not work as the trigger for the claim would be outside the policy period.

      Good luck.

      Jim

  6. I have a question. I live in Iowa and a storm damaged a tree on the neighbors property causing a huge tree branch to fall on my camper. Now where my camper sits is on my in-laws property. Its been a month now and I Dont know who to contact to fix my camper. The neighbor doesn’t speak English and my in-laws are out of town fir another month. I have extensive damage to my camper. What do I do?

    • Do you have insurance for your camper? If so you can file a claim with your insurance company and they will pay for the coverage and then “subrogate” against your neighbor’s policy.

      You can try talking to them directly about filing a claim on the homeowner’s policy. If they don’t cooperate you can speak to an attorney.

      The longer you wait the harder it will be to recover damages.

      You haven’t told me why you’ve waited so long.

      Good luck.

      Jim

      • Because we didn’t know what to do. Who we should contact. And no we Dont have insurance on our camper. We had just purchased it. We were going to take the neighbor to small claims court but we had to wait for the first because we are on social security and we haven’t been able to contact his mom and dad to let them know. So we didn’t know what to do.

        • At this point you need to send the neighbor a letter requesting compensation for your damages. Be as factual as possible. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer within ten days go through small claims court.

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