As you may have read in the April Editor’s Briefing, my home airport Johnson County Executive Airport (KOJC) was decimated by severe straight-line winds that destroyed or damaged numerous hangars and the aircraft inside them. With one of my beloved birds caught up in the mess, you could say I have gone through the five stages of grief (maybe not the bargaining stage so much). At first I was in disbelief, then angry, followed by sadness and finally now acceptance. I wrote April’s editorial in my “sadness” stage.
In the case of an aircraft loss, I have discovered there’s a final stage that I was previously unaware: “insurance dysphoria.” This comes about as you work through the long and sometimes painful process of reconciling the loss with your insurance company. While your aircraft has so many special qualities that you admire, to the insurance company, it is just a machine representing dollars and cents. There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it inaccurate. It just is.
By the time you read this, we will have hopefully reached a satisfactory settlement with our aircraft. A friend asked me, what did you learn? Plenty, I replied, it was harder than I imagined. Thus, I thought I’d share a few words of wisdom.
Do you really know your policy? Like most aircraft owners, you read over your policy prior to signing, and you think you understand it. But it is difficult to appreciate the carefully worded document until it is applied to a specific loss situation. Have your agent provide a detailed scenario-based explanation of your coverages.
Don’t start a war on the first day. Among the many aircraft owners who suffered damages in our recent storm, some switched immediately to missiles as soon as the underwriters arrived on site. Cooperation and professionalism were in short supply for a few. Granted, emotions run high when you are faced with unbelievable, catastrophic damage to a beloved aircraft. But remember, in the initial stages, everyone is information-gathering. The time to negotiate and take the offensive may be yet to come, but not the day after the loss.
Document extensively. Take detailed photos of the damage, from different angles if possible. Also, take photos of the broader scene so you have documentation of the environment surrounding your aircraft. Take all those photos and notes, and create a PowerPoint (or similar) to share with the underwriter and repair stations. Not only will it help you organize a complicated damage situation, it will help you eloquently describe and discuss the damage and possible repairs.
Phone a friend (or several). Get experts and allies involved. When it comes to aircraft damage and losses, this is not your underwriter’s first rodeo. If you’ve been fortunate, this is most likely yours. Rest assured, the underwriter has seen it all and is most likely a few steps ahead of you. Surround yourself with experts who know your aircraft make and model, know the repair process and have worked through complicated claims before.
Your agent should take an active role. This is a time when your agent can be of great service. Not only can they explain how your policy applies to your situation, they can help broker conversations with the underwriter and offer insights that you may not have thought of.
Your underwriter is not necessarily your friend. As much as you might like the underwriter as a person, don’t assume they have your best interests in mind. They report to the shareholders of the insurance company, so they are 100 percent focused on minimizing the amount of money they pay out on your claim. Certainly, you will be communicating with him or her regularly during the claims process; but just don’t forget what team he or she is playing for.
The repair facility your underwriter picks may not be the best choice. You can’t ignore the fact that the underwriters may call certain repair facilities frequently to provide a repair estimate. As you probably guessed, those estimates are probably going to be significantly less that the ones you obtain from a well-known service center specializing in your make and model. The bottom line is that it’s your airplane, and it’s going to be you and your family flying in it after the repairs are done. Safety of flight is always paramount, so it’s important to pursue the best possible repair with the most experienced shop in your aircraft model.
Policy renewing soon? Now is the time to examine your policy in detail. One area to carefully consider: don’t under-insure…or over-insure. Straying too far to one extreme or the other can come back to haunt you.
In a future issue, I will provide some final thoughts as to the outcome of my situation. In my April column, I quoted Shel Silverstein’s poem, “There are no happy endings.” Regardless of how “fair” or “equitable” the outcome might be, those words never rang truer.