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Horse & Farm Insurance — the Winter of 2011

The winter of 2011 will be remembered by many as one of the most challenging for many years to come. This is especially so for those taking care of any livestock, and more so yet if they're horses because they require far more attention and care than cows, chickens or hogs. With a record amount of snowfall and frigid temperatures in between, snow just kept piling higher and higher with loads on some roofs exceeding 100 lbs or more per square foot. These consecutive storms compromised the capacity of many roofs on barns, arenas, storage sheds, garages and houses throughout the Northeast, but especially in southern New England (CT,RI and MA).

Many of the farm and home owners worked feverishly to remove the bulk of snow and ice off their roofs before the stress of the weight damaged or destroyed the shelters of their families and livestock. They looked to contractors (who where in great demand and back-logged), employees, friends and family to help remove the excess loads of snow off roofs in the worst of weather conditions, including snow, sleet and rain. However, before some could respond, extreme weight piled up before the danger was realized. That weight was simply too much for many structures to bear and they collapsed. In Massachusetts alone, over 100 buildings collapsed and many more were structurally damaged along with thousands of dollars in interior water damage from ice dams alone.

Collapsed Barn
This barn collapsed due to the unusually large amount of snow weight on its roof.

How do I know, because we live on a family farm that's run by family members and we were called to action. With aid of life lines, harnesses and ropes to keep us safe, we worked days to clear our roofs. Imagine scaling the roof of the 80' x 200' riding arena along with the top barn which runs about 30' x 120'. That was quite the adventure, especially when combined with the rather cranky nature of all the volunteers who were already exhausted from shoveling their own homes and businesses. However, we all managed to focus on the task at hand and the occasional bantering which so often takes place, at least with my family. Though it did take us several days to remove the snow and ice off of all the buildings, it always amazes me when friends and family join forces to help in a crisis, the results are just spectacular!

For those less fortunate, we hope they had insurance for any damaged property. Next is the hope that damaged buildings were "insured to value" and with "replacement cost". "Insured to value" means you have the property insured with the limit required to cover replacing the loss, especially if the building was completely destroyed. If the limit was too low, it could cost you thousands; if your limit is a little higher, be grateful you have a competent agent, considering the fact that most (60%) of insured agricultural property in this country is ridiculously underinsured. As insurance professionals, we should always recommend you limits that are a little higher rather than lower because most claims cost more than expected.

While it's important to receive re-imbursement for serious losses, minimizing unnecessary claims is also important because it can raise your rates. Your agent can and should help you in making these decisions. Once a claim is reported and documented, whether paid or not, it is viewed as activity and could increase your premiums. So, ask your agent to help you manage and reduce your losses wherever possible.

When a decision is made to file a claim, the insured then assumes responsibility for their part of the policy agreement. Your first and foremost contractual obligation is to prevent any further damage to the extent possible so as to minimize loss. For example; if a storm removes or damages a portion of your roof, you should then immediately hire a reputable, licensed and insured contractor to temporarily cover the area until it can be permanently repaired so that more damage does not occur. Note that you should in most cases have the insurance adjuster see the damage before it is repaired, however in some situations, this is not possible. The good news is that most claims go pretty smoothly and should play out with a happy ending, so you can generally expect the best.

Here is the typical procession of events you can expect when a claim is made:

  1. You become aware of damage and take immediate action within your abilities (stay safe — don't risk injury) to prevent further damage.
  2. You get the DETAILS of the damage and its cause (if possible) and write down the following:

    1. Who was injured (get names, addresses, contact info, etc.);
    2. What was damaged;
    3. When it happened;
    4. Where the event happened; and
    5. How it happened.
  3. You notify your agent/insurance company of the loss. The more information you can provide when reporting the claim the better, but if you can't get all the details, you need to report any way.
  4. The insurance company will assign a claim representative and a claim number. Your claim representative is the primary person you'll be corresponding with during the claims process — write down their contact information. Additionally, they will most likely be the one reviewing and approving the payment of your claim.
  5. Your representative will then hire/assign an adjuster (locally) who will contact you to set up a time to physically visit and assess the damage you've incurred. When the claims adjuster contacts you, make sure you also get the adjusters' name, email and phone number — it's equally important. The adjuster will compile a report about the loss and submit it to the insurance company's claim representative.
  6. Your representative will review your policy to assess its coverage. Assuming your agent offered you proper limits and levels of coverage when you purchased the policy, you should feel confident. Your agent will be sent reports from your insurance company about the status of your claim and will contact you if a problem arises. If the process of you getting paid stops for one reason or another, the agent will intervene to break up the log jam — if they don't, or you have problems contacting your agent, you need a new agent. Most agents are good and will try very hard to resolve problems and get your claim paid sooner rather than later!

The most common problems in the claims process are simply communication breakdowns. Often, when in a crisis situation, there is much stress and anxiety in our lives, especially if our livelihood comes to a stop. This is the human element and many agents/insurance companies understand this. It helps a lot if everyone can be patient and use clear and civil communications. You can expect your agent and insurance company to come through when you need them as most will. Take the time, lots of time, before ever needing insurance to find an agent and insurance company you can depend on, but most importantly, one you can trust when you need them most.

Scott Lombard grew up on a horse farm and is co-owner of Corinthian Insurance Agency. He is an experiencd horseman and has been in the insurance business for 20 years, focusing especially on the insurance needs of horse owners and equine professionals.

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