Understanding the Claims Process

Many people lost their homes and businesses in the wildfires, and wine country was especially hard hit with a number of vineyards and wineries impacted. Whether you suffered a complete loss or had partial damages, the first step in the rebuilding process is to file a claim.

Before you file a claim, you should review your policy to determine the exact coverage you have along with any deductibles. In some cases, you may have more than one policy to cover your losses. For example, you may have a commercial policy that protects your building and general business while another is specifically for crop loss.

There are many different endorsements or add-ons to insurance policies. Each insurance policy is different and has unique coverage and deductibles based on your specific needs and the amount that you pay for the policy. Not all policies cover all types of damages, so you should check to verify the coverage with your provider.

File a Claim

Once you understand your policies and what protections are covered you must file a claim. There are time limits imposed in the policy that govern when you need to submit a claim. Generally, crops claims must be made more quickly than other types of claims. This is because growers need to quickly assess their damages in order to save a crop that might be in danger.

Generally, you must file a crop claim within 72 hours of finding the damage. Deadlines are noted specifically in your policy. You must adhere to these claims time-limits or you may be giving up your right to file a claim. It is best to file a claim in writing. This provides you with written confirmation of having submitted a claim. If you file a claim by telephone, make a note of the date and time you made the claim and the name of the representative who took the information.

Prepare for the Adjuster

Once you file a claim the insurance provider schedules a visit by a loss adjuster. The adjuster visits the property to examine the damages. It is best to prepare for the adjuster’s visit as much as possible. There are a few things you should do to protect yourself during the claim process.

You should assess your damages as soon as it is safe to do so. You will need to provide a map of the property indicating the location of the lost or damaged crops. Review your crop policy to verify the areas or crops that are protected. Take photos of the damaged crops.

Do not remove dead or damaged crops. Don’t plow or do anything else until after the adjuster visit. If there is an immediate need to try to do something in order to mitigate your damages, you should obtain written permission from your insurance provider first. In some cases, you may need to harvest the remaining grapes as quickly as possible.

Let your insurance company know if your situation is urgent. In these types of cases the company will try to have the adjuster come as quickly as possible. In any case, the adjuster should visit in a reasonable length of time.

Gather any documentation you have regarding the crop and your finances. The adjuster will make a determination of valuation based on a variety of factors. Usually, the provider calculates crop yield by the amount that will be produced per unit of measure. The yield may alternatively be determined based on tax guidelines.

When the damages are substantial it may be helpful to obtain an aerial survey of the vineyard. This provides photographic evidence of the damaged crops that cannot easily be disputed. You should also take photos of the crops and land that were damaged as a result of the wildfires.

Meet with the Adjuster

You will need to meet with the adjuster to discuss your losses and to escort him through the property. Provide all documentation that you have about the crops and your insurance coverage. If you have any additional evidence of your losses, you should give it to the adjuster as well.

Inform the adjuster of all of your damages and losses. He will examine them and take pictures. He will also review your documentation to calculate your losses. If you have prepared adequately you should have a list of any property or crops that were lost in the fire.

Crop losses can be extremely complicated. Crop damage may be minimal and might allow for some harvesting. Other times, crops might be lost for the season. In some cases, crops may be lost for several years. For example, if the vines were completely lost in the fire the land will need to be assessed for use. Then, new vines must be planted, which will take several years to produce grapes. All of these factors need to be considered when calculating losses.

Additionally, crops that were not damaged by fire might still have suffered smoke taint. Smoke taint occurs when smoke enters the vines causing a change in the chemical composition of the grapes. Tainted grapes may produce wine that has a terrible aroma. If they suffer from smoke taint, these grapes are likely unsuitable for use.

All of these issues need to be reviewed by the adjuster as part of the claims process. After the adjuster visit is complete, the company will provide you with a claim settlement letter. If you do not agree with the insurance company’s assessment and settlement offer, you may file a dispute with the provider. Policies usually have terms in place for handling disputes. If a dispute cannot be adequately resolved, you may need to take legal action.

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