An earthmover tips into a foundation hole … your super backs a truck into a homeowner's car … a subcontractor gouges a glass cooktop while installing a fan. Accidents happen, and when they do a strong case made by photographs will bolster your insurance claim.
Ideally, you should have a high-quality digital camera with you at all times, but any camera will do. “I recommend that all of my clients have a disposable camera in every vehicle and at every location,” says Scott Simmonds, president of Insurance Consultants of Maine, Saco, Maine.
When reporting a loss, you need to provide a complete description of the accident, and the best way to do that is to photograph the scene immediately. If the loss occurred at a jobsite, photograph anything that contributed to the incident, such as wet or slick floors or the position of objects after they've fallen.
Of course, accidents aren't limited to the job-site. “A million dollar claim for a remodeler is most likely going to come from an automobile accident,” Simmonds says. “So you want to have an understanding of the conditions. Was the road slick? Had it rained recently?”
When using disposable cameras, Simmonds offers this advice, “Empty the thing. They cost $2.50, and [about] $15 to develop. There's no such thing as too much information in a claim.”
“Documentation is the key to a successful defense and in providing useful evidence of conditions as they existed at the time,” adds Frederick J. Fisher, CEO of E.L.M Insurance Brokers in El Segundo, Calif. “Pictures should be from a variety of angles and distances.”
Routinely archiving photographs of your sites is a smart way to have backup of general site conditions, notes remodeler John Sylvestre of Sylvestre Construction in Minneapolis. “If our production super has a structural condition that looks bad, we review it on the screen,” he says. Sylvestre has a link on his desktop that allows him to go quickly to photos of projects by name.
Although Simmonds prefers the picture quality of disposable cameras, he sees the value of cell phone cameras. “If [a cell phone] is all you have, it certainly is better than nothing,” he says. But, as Fisher notes, disposables have another advantage over cell phone cameras and other digital cameras: “Using film-based cameras can dispel any claim of evidence-tampering,” he says.
For those who would rather use a cell phone camera, you'll soon have a much larger range of high-quality camera phones from which to choose. New products, such as the Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot K800 and K790 camera phones, offer 3.2-megapixel resolution and high-speed data transfer.
Cati O'Keefe is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.