An attorney's guide to dealing with disasters
Last Updated: 16:36 October 3, 2013
Be sure to keep track of the expenses you incur to secure your business as those expenses may be covered by your insurance.
Additionally, document your damage by taking photographs and video recordings, gathering copies of inventory records, asset records, building improvements and remodels, etc. Take detailed notes of your conversations with first responders, insurance agents/brokers, insurance claims representatives/adjusters, landlords, contractors, restoration and service providers.
Be sure to include in your documentation the name of the person(s) you spoke with; the purpose of the call or visit; what was discussed; action items; and, who is going to do what and when. Where practicable, confirm calls and meetings in writing with an e-mail or letter.
Review your insurance
If you have not done so, you should locate and carefully review all insurance policies including general liability, automobile, business interruption and umbrella or excess policies.
Contact your insurance representative regarding your damage and for guidance on how to submit your claim. Next, promptly notify your insurance carriers, including a written confirmation of your damage and claim.
Typically, a carrier representative or adjuster will contact you within a few days and schedule a time to visit your business and inspect the damage and begin the process of adjusting your claim — that is determining the extent of the damage, cost of repair or replacement, and available coverage; certain coverages, like business interruption coverage, may not cover the first few days of loss.
If the carrier reports that some or all of your damage is not covered by your insurance policy, you should ask for a complete explanation of the basis for the denial of coverage. If you continue to disagree with the carrier's decision about coverage, many insurance policies provide for an administrative appeal process and require that you submit unresolved disputes to binding arbitration rather than through the legal system.
Stay connected, informed
Contact your clients and customers, vendors and suppliers, financial institution, landlord, and/or mortgage lender to inform them of the status of your business and when you expect your business to return to normal operations.
Recovery assistance may be available through local emergency resource centers, FEMA, the Small Business Administration, your local chamber of commerce, and trade groups.
Be vigilant with repairs, cleanup
Another thing to be mindful of is that part of your recovery process may necessarily involve hiring a construction, repair or other service provider to assist with assessing the damage and making the needed repairs.
There are some fundamental due diligence steps you can take when dealing with a contractor or service provider to protect yourself and your business:
Ask for three to five local references, including their names and contact information, and, then check out those references. Check independent rating sources such as the Better Business Bureau or the several reputable on-line rating resources.
Depending on the nature of the work, ask to review and inspect the provider's current licensing information.
Ask to review and inspect the provider's current insurance coverage information including general liability, workers' compensation and automobile liability.
Insist on a proposal and ultimately written contract for the services, which provides at least the scope of work, payment terms, adherence to applicable licensing and building code requirements and, the time for performance.
Do not agree to anything more than a minimal deposit and progress payments as the work proceeds to your satisfaction. Never provide your confidential personal or financial information. For example, there is no reason the provider needs your personal information such as Social Security number or bank account information.
These simple tips can help along the process of recovery for your business and help minimize risks going forward.
Theodore E Laszlo Jr. is an attorney with Boulder-based LaszloLaw. He can be reached at 303-926-0410.
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