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Superintendent of Insurance Howard Mills today announced that the Insurance Department's toll-free Disaster Hotline will be activated beginning Monday, Oct. 16 in response to Governor Pataki’s declaration of an emergency in the counties of Erie, Genesee, Niagara and Orleans and contiguous areas due to Thursday’s lake effect snowstorm.

The Insurance Department’s Disaster Hotline number is 1-800-339-1759, with Consumers Services Bureau personnel available on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

"Governor Pataki directed State agencies to provide all assistance possible to these beleaguered areas that have been struck by this freak October snowstorm, and accordingly, we have activated our hotline," Superintendent Mills said. "The Insurance Department’s Consumers Services Bureau professionals are available to answer inquiries regarding insurance policies and coverage as well as assist with complaints, but homeowners and businesses should also reach out to their private-sector insurance representatives as soon as possible to assess their level of coverage and begin the claims process."

Governor Pataki declared a State Disaster Emergency for the counties of Erie, Genesee, Niagara and Orleans and contiguous areas that suffered damages after the freak early snowstorm brought more than two feet of snow and widespread damage to the communities.

Superintendent Mills reminded all New Yorkers to prepare for winter weather hazards.

"It may seem that autumn’s barely beginning, but New York’s insurance consumers need to prepare for winter weather by becoming aware of what is covered and what is not covered under their homeowners and automobile insurance policies," Superintendent Mills stated. The two key questions homeowners should ask themselves, and the answers, are as follows:

  • What damage to your home is covered? Damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, trees or other falling objects, as well as the collapse of a structure due to the weight of ice or snow, are all covered under most standard homeowners policies. The repair of pipes that are frozen as the result of extreme cold weather may not be covered if the damage is due to negligence, such as failing to maintain an adequate temperature in the house.
  • What damage to your home is not covered? Many policies do not cover losses of any type incurred as the result of a flood, the costs associated with the removal of a fallen tree unless the tree lands on your home, food spoilage expenses created by an off-premises power outage, and water damage which results from backed-up drains or sewers. Some insurers offer endorsements (additional protection that may be purchased) for certain coverages not covered under the standard homeowner policy, so check with your agent or company to determine your needs.

Those involved in an automobile accident and planning to file a claim should:

  • Obtain information such as the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and license numbers of all persons involved in the accident and all witnesses. Also, record the time, date, location, road conditions, make and year of the vehicles involved, the driver’s insurance information, apparent damage and injuries, and your version of what happened, especially when a police report hasn’t been filed.
  • Call your insurance agent or insurance company with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible, although you have 30 days in which to report the accident. Be sure you cooperate fully with the insurance company and ask your agent what documents, forms, and data you'll need.
  • Take notes each time you talk to your insurance company, agent, lawyers, police, or others involved in the situation. Write down the dates, times, names, and subjects you talked about, as well as any decisions or promises made.
  • Ask your insurance company if you have coverage for a car rental if your car is not drivable and save any receipts and bills incurred for car rental, towing and storage expenses.

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