Tornadoes Showed Benefits of Having An Independent Agent

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

The tornadoes that ripped through southern Worcester County recently created massive destruction and left many people without food, clothing or shelter.  But for many victims, it could have been worse – they could have been insured by the wrong company.

Many people who were victims of the tornado have had their claims paid off and are working on putting their lives back together.  Many others have been denied the benefit of having their claims handled expeditiously.  Cheap insurance is only cheap until you file a claim – and find that you don’t have adequate coverage.

As one client of McGrath Insurance Group put it, “It’s a good thing we didn’t go online to buy insurance.”  Fortunately, those who had independent agents to handle their claims, in many cases, had their claims settled quickly.

At McGrath Insurance, we handled 70 tornado-related claims and 10% to 15% of them were from homeowners who lost everything.  Our staff worked tirelessly to ensure that clients had money in hand as quickly as the day after the storm.  In some cases, we needed to find housing for clients.  In other cases, other special needs had to be attended to.

The tornadoes were a reminder of the need to not only have the right insurance, but the right insurance agency.

Preparing For Natural Disasters

The tornadoes have come and gone, but other natural disasters can strike at any time.  What else can consumers do to ensure that they are properly protected in case of a future tornado or other natural disaster?

Be proactive.  Review your homeowner’s insurance policy with your insurance agent.  Make certain you have a good understanding of what’s covered and what’s not covered.  Homeowner’s insurance typically covers damage caused by fire, lightning or wind.  Damage caused by a tornado would be considered wind damage.

Determining what needs to be covered requires in-depth knowledge.  If you were to buy homeowner’s insurance online, as one example, you may make the mistake of buying coverage based on your mortgage or on what your home sold for.  Ideally, though, homeowner’s insurance should be based on what it would cost you to replace your home if it were destroyed.

Buying online, you may also exclude liability coverage, which covers you in case someone is injured on your property.  Without it, you could be putting your home and all of your assets in financial jeopardy in case of a lawsuit.

Have a plan.  Your insurance agent should develop a complete insurance plan and review of your specific exposures.  Your agent should make you aware of the costs, coverage and exposures that your family could encounter that may put your family at risk.  Once your specific insurance review is complete, you can make an informed decision about whether it is worth purchasing coverage.

Take photos.  The purpose of insurance is to restore your property to the way it was before it was damaged.  If you have an inventory of your property and photos showing your property, it will be easier to achieve that goal.

Ideally, you should take photos of every room in your house, as well as the exterior.  Open all drawers and closets and take photos of the contents.  Save the photos on a CDR and keep the CDR in a safe deposit box.

Use reputable contractors.  If your home is damaged, be sure to hire a contractor or contractors who are reputable and properly insured.  Ask to see a certificate of insurance for liability and make certain the contractor has worker’s compensation insurance.  If the contractor is not properly insured and someone is injured while working on your property, you could be sued.

Save your receipts.  Make certain you have proper documentation of all damage-related expenses.  Also make sure you know what each receipt was used for.  Keep receipts separate for debris removal, for the cost of protecting your home from further damage and for actual repairs.

Choose the right agent.  Your agent should do more than sell you insurance.  Your agent should also help when you have to file a claim.  If you buy insurance online, there’s likely to be no one to act on your behalf when you file a claim.  If you have an insurance agent, your agent can tell you if you’re covered and can not only help you file a claim, but may act as an advocate on your behalf if necessary to ensure that your claim is not only paid, but paid in a timely manner.

Some online carriers provide bare-bones coverage that may not meet your needs.  Your insurance agent will also be aware of what’s covered by each policy and what is excluded from coverage.

Working together, you should be able to choose a homeowner’s insurance policy that protects you from the next tornado without paying more than you need to.

Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.