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Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Can insurance companies enter your house or examine your car?
Table of Contents
- Defining the boundaries for visits from insurance companies
- You have a right to refuse a visit from your insurance company
- The right to inspection
- Insurance companies may inspect your home at renewal time
If you're looking to purchase or renew a home insurance policy, or need to file a home or car insurance claim, a personal visit from your insurance company could be in your future.
"It's quite common for an insurance company to inspect a property before issuing a policy or while processing a claim," says Michelle Rupp, spokesperson for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.
If you crashed your vehicle, car insurance companies may also want to visit you -- or the scene of the crash -- before paying your claim. This is especially the case if your car has sustained a lot of damage or looks like it might be totaled.
"In many cases, a physical inspection is the best way to assess the amount of damage," says Rupp. "It’s for everyone's benefit because it ensures you're paid for all the eligible damage sustained."
But that doesn't mean your insurance company can show up on your doorstep any time.
Defining the boundaries for visits from insurance companies
Thomas J. Simeone, an insurance and personal injury attorney at Simeone & Miller, LLP in Washington, D.C., says your insurance company (and its representatives) is governed by the same laws as anyone else who may want to visit your property.
"They cannot trespass onto your property, or go into your car without your permission," he says.
Even if your insurance company wants to examine your car to assess damage or walk around your yard to inspect your home’s damaged siding from a hailstorm, an adjuster or employee of the insurance company needs your permission, Simeone says.
However, there may be an exception. Some policies may specifically state that your insurance company doesn't need your permission to go onto your property.
"Although those are very rare," says Simeone.
You have a right to refuse a visit from your insurance company
In most cases, you have a legal right to refuse an inspection from your insurance company, Simeone says. However, it may not always be in your best interest to refuse.
"Denying the inspection request means you'll probably have to deal with an expensive fallout," Simeone says. "If you refuse, your insurance company will probably deny the claim. So you won't be able to benefit from all the coverage you've paid for during the life of the policy."
At the very least, refusing an inspection will delay the processing of your claim. That means you could be left with a damaged car or needed home repairs longer than expected.
If you deny an insurance company a pre-policy inspection, you could be facing a similar fate, Rupp says.
"The insurance company will probably not write the policy," she adds.
While you have a right to refuse a visit onto your private property, into your garage or into your home, you can't stop your insurance company from conducting a visual inspection from public property, Simeone says.
"You have no right to privacy to anything visible from public areas like streets, sidewalks, etc. So, if the insurance company adjuster drives by your home and can see your damaged roof, or the trampoline you said you don't have, he or she can photograph it without violating any laws," he explains.
The right to inspection
What gives an insurance company the right to conduct an inspection?
"All insurance policies include a ‘duty of the insured to cooperate’ clause," says Shelby R. Mobley, a spokesperson for Allstate Insurance Co.
If you buy a policy, it’s implied that you're agreeing to that clause. Mobley says that car and home insurance policies are written in this manner to protect both parties.
"You want to receive the full compensation you're entitled to. And your insurance company wants to make sure the payment is calculated according to the terms of the policy and includes all the eligible damage," he says.
An insurance policy is a legal contract. In exchange for payment, you receive coverage and you must comply with certain conditions to keep that coverage intact, Mobley adds.
Insurance companies may inspect your home at renewal time
Filing a claim isn't the only factor that may trigger an inspection. While insurance companies are not in the habit of inspecting your home at random, they “typically inspect at policy inception and renewal [time]," says Mobley.
Mobley says that home and auto insurance companies usually hire appraisers to conduct inspections on their behalf. The appraisers are trained to assess damage pertaining to a claim and to determine if a property is eligible for coverage.
Under normal circumstances, an insurance adjuster will not show up at your home unexpectedly. Adjusters and inspectors will generally contact you to schedule an appointment because they will probably want to discuss the damage with you.
"They want to know all the details and sometimes just looking at the property doesn't tell the whole story," says Rupp.
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