My neighbor, who's a consultant, returned from a business trip to London last week without his all-important laptop. Apparently, it was stolen somewhere between a West End pub and Gloucester Road. Luckily, it was mostly an annoyance for him: because he was good about backing up files and had a sturdy insurance policy, his business will be fine.

Would yours? I realized, talking to him, that many small-business owners don't realize that a lot of the work of filing an insurance claim takes place before trouble hits.

What to Do Before You Make a Claim

Numbers from The Hartford show that 40 percent of small businesses will likely experience a Property or General Liability Insurance claim in the next 10 years. Taking action now can facilitate your claims process when a loss inevitably happens. Follow these tips before making a claim, and you may see your settlement sooner:

  • Train employees in emergency procedures.That helps keep them safe, which is your number-one priority.
  • Take pictures.Visual evidence supports your claim, so make sure employees who drive company cars or work in high-risk areas know to snap photos after an accident. You might also want to install security cameras to prevent theft.
  • Create uniform incident reports.A standardized form for on-the-job injuries is easier for employees to complete and insurance adjusters to follow. Include space for a description of the accident, notifications, interventions, and witness statements.
  • Comply with state and federal regulations.That way, you won’t have to deal with regulatory trouble on top of a claim.
  • Send a summary of your continuity plan for review by your insurer. The claims department can make suggestions or ask questions. Their insights may prove valuable when you file.
  • Secure important documents.Offsite storage of insurance policies and financial documents means you can access them even when you can't access your business. Be sure electronic copies are regularly backed up and stored in a separate location, too.

These simple steps make the claims process go smoother so you can get your business back on track faster.

What to Do When It's Time to Make a Claim

You can also grease the wheels at claim time by:

  • Contacting the authorities.A police report after an accident can corroborate your account and inform the adjuster about weather conditions and details at the scene that may have contributed to the incident, corroborating your report.
  • Contacting your provider immediately. Most policies require you to contact your insurance provider as soon as possible after an incident. Some require notification if there is even a chance of a claim. Complying with this requirement can save headaches down the road.
  • Working with the adjuster. Once you've filed the claim form, your case is assigned to an adjuster. Contact the adjuster within two to three days, evidence in hand. Pictures, witness statements, and incident reports all support your claim. You might also want to keep a record of applicable contacts, notes, and next steps.
  • Recording your losses.Compile a comprehensive list of losses, including damaged structures, inventory, and equipment, plus the work hours needed for repairs. You also want to gather business records that demonstrate the value of these items. Remember, too, if you have Business Interruption Insurance, you need proof of your business's income and its ongoing expenses in order to receive your benefits.
  • Making temporary repairs. Most insurers want you to mitigate your losses, which may mean making small repairs to keep your business operational. For example, if a storm rips a hole in your roof, you don't need permission to place a tarp over it. Additionally, you can get estimates for the larger repairs.

Thinking about insurance claims may not be the most exciting part of your day, but taking preemptive action can save you stress and panic when a property loss or business interruption hits.

Published on: Sep 29, 2015