Therese M. Goldsmith spent most of last week preparing to deal with Cyclone Sandy's second wave: thousands of Maryland residents who filed insurance claims and began working with contractors and mechanics to repair damage to their homes and cars. As the commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration, she's charged with regulating Maryland's insurance industry and making certain that insurance companies comply with Maryland insurance law. The MIA also handles complaints from consumers and helps them work through problems with their providers.
1. People across the state are cleaning up from Sandy, and thousands of them will be filing claims with insurance companies. What sort of advice can you give them as they work through that process?
First, read your insurance policy carefully so that you understand what is covered, what is excluded from coverage and what deductibles might apply. Contact your insurance company or agent as soon as possible to report any damage.
As soon as it is safe to do so, prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed property for the insurance adjuster and for yourself. Take photographs or a video of the damaged property to help document your claim and assist in the insurance company's investigation. Keep all receipts for emergency repairs and for any temporary living expenses if your home is not habitable.
Make only those repairs necessary to prevent any further damage to your home or business. Do not have permanent repairs made without consulting your agent or insurance company. And if you hire a public adjuster, understand that your insurance company is not obligated to accept the public adjuster's determination regarding your loss.
2. With a major event like this, there's a greater possibility for fraudulent schemes targeting home owners. How can consumers protect themselves?
Consumers can protect themselves from home repair scams by being cautious. Get estimates from at least two contractors. Be wary of any contractor who demands up-front payment for repairs.
Request at least three references for any contractors you are considering. Be sure to see proof of licensing, building permits, insurance and bonding. You can ask to see the worker's Home Improvement Commission license and check its expiration date. Contractors must display their license number on all of their contracts, trucks and advertisements.
3. What should consumers do if they have a concern or complaint while dealing with their insurance companies in the aftermath of the storm?
Consumers can reach out to the Maryland Insurance Administration at any time. Our Rapid Response Program helps individuals and businesses to resolve claims, often without having to file a formal complaint. Consumers can call us at 410-468-2340 or toll-free at 1-800-492-6116. Members of the MIA's Disaster Response Team also staff Disaster Assistance Centers that may be set up in various local jurisdictions.
4. Does the severity of both Sandy and this summer's derecho indicate a need for consumers to review their homeowner's insurance, or are most people sufficiently covered?
Both homeowners and renters should regularly review their insurance policies to ensure they are adequately covered. An important consideration is whether your policy covers the cost to replace or repair damaged property, pays the actual cash value (ACV). Replacement cost coverage will pay the actual cost, minus your deductible, to rebuild using similar materials to return your property to its pre-loss condition. With actual cash value, the cost to replace the property is adjusted to reflect depreciation.
5. If you could have a meal at any restaurant in Baltimore to relax after a long week (like last week), where would you go?
I'm a Catonsville girl, so I'd have to say one of the local favorites — Catonsville Gourmet, Matthew's 1600, Regions. They're all great.
Therese M. Goldsmith
Commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration
Previous job: Partner at Hogan & Hartson LLP
Education: Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maryland School of Law, Bachelor of Science in speech-language pathology/audiology and psychology from Towson University. Master's degree in speech-language pathology, also from Towson.
Family: Goldsmith and her husband have two grown children.