At least one photo should be taken for each line item on the claim, but the more photos, the better. These days, drone footage can provide a tremendous amount of detail as can video footage. Do not limit your photos to damage only; show the clean-up work in progress. This can include the number of crew members working and the equipment they are using, particularly if the work involves heavy equipment like cranes, bucket trucks, or excavators. Photographs must be organized and presented in a folder or file (i.e., input the photos into a PowerPoint presentation).
2. Inventory the damage. This can be time consuming but the benefits of doing this correctly are worth the effort. Ideally a complete list of all damaged items (plants, trees, etc.) will be put into a digital file. Key datapoints to include in the inventory for each asset are: quantity of asset—the number of plants or square footage of turf; type of asset—tree, plant or turf species; size of asset —the diameter/height of a tree or plant, or amount of a material such as sand, soil, mulch; and location of the asset (some coverages apply only to assets in managed areas of the property).
Other data sometimes required include confirmation as to the particulars of plant asset on the property. An insurance provider may want to know if a shrub was installed as part of the landscape design as opposed to naturally growing there prior to construction of the site. They may also ask if the shrub is pruned, mowed, or treated, or if the shrub provides a demonstrable function—such as providing shade, creating privacy, or marking property lines—that enhances use of the property or its aesthetic value.
3. Document the cause of damage. This will determine if a policy covers the damage. Providing an expert opinion as a landscaper on the cause of loss only further strengthens a policy holder’s position.
Even if insurance doesn’t cover the loss, this information, together with photos and an inventory of damaged assets, may allow a property owner to file a casualty loss claim on their tax return. In either case, be sure that any reports, proposals, or recommendations include only assets legitimately damaged by the event in the claim. Including other assets—such as a tree that died from disease the year before—will slow down the process, delay payment, and create suspicion from the adjuster. Avoid “self-inflicted wounds” and maintain a high degree of integrity and honesty.
4. Involve the adjuster in the process. Being transparent and collegial with an adjuster can go a long way. Ask the adjuster what steps you should take to document the claim early in the process. Try to ascertain what will be covered and clarify the owner’s responsibility to mitigate additional damage after the loss has occurred.
5. Provide invoices, plans, and pre-loss photos if available. Any available documentation that can establish what assets were on the property prior to a loss event is valuable in supporting an insurance claim. This is particularly true if, for instance, a storm obliterates a landscape to the point that even a post-loss property inspection would not provide a complete view of the assets lost.
6. Provide pricing for the cost to repair and/or replace damaged outdoor property. As mentioned, the Green Industry and the value of landscaping assets is not an area of expertise for many adjusters. Be wary of pricing data that is outdated or provided from low quality vendors and suppliers. By taking the initiative and providing detailed pricing, it will greatly assist in procuring a fair settlement.
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Like any job estimate, it’s important not to provide lump sum pricing and instead breakout the cost of materials, labor, permits and any other items required to complete the restoration. For example, if you are replacing a shrub, include the quantity, the type of shrub, the unit size (i.e., pot or box size), where the shrub is being installed, and whether the cost includes freight and labor to install.
Knowing how to document damages to outdoor property is a valuable skillset. It will elevate your professionalism and expand your knowledge of how to maintain, manage, and restore property after a disaster event. Successfully navigating the insurance process will ensure an expeditious and fair payout for all covered losses. Even if a loss is not covered, the same documentation will likely have value in supporting an application for disaster aid, filing a casualty loss claim on a tax return, or subrogating against a responsible third party.
Malawsky brings over 25 years of operational, legal, and risk management experience to his role as COO and head of the Consulting and Contract Services Division at HMI. He managed HMI’s acquisition of Marquee Consulting, which expanded HMI’s services to include solutions ranging from property renovation, enhancement, and maintenance to disaster recovery and damage mitigation. Malawsky handles large and complex losses and has consulted on cases involving some of the most prestigious commercial and hospitality properties in the U.S. and the Caribbean.
This article is not meant to provide legal, tax, accounting, or insurance advice. It’s designed to help property managers and vendors manage a property. It’s important to engage the appropriate experts to ensure compliance with all relevant rules, regulations, laws, and statutes, as well as secure the best possible financial outcome in insurance & legal claims.
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