Whether or not to claim stolen, damaged, and ultimately returned property on homeowner's insurance.
June 13, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Help us decide what to do about a claim on our homeowner's insurance.

Our home was broken into and our laptops were stolen. Boo. Then we got them back. Yay! They'd been outside for three days, in 90+F weather and at least one rain shower. Boo. Surprisingly, they both still work. Yay!

Our question is this: Should we go ahead and file an insurance claim for these laptops? The reason we're considering this is that we're worried that one of these laptops (the swank one), while it is fine right now, is going to die shortly from having been very hot for several days and quite damp as well. The other laptop does not matter, because it's a work laptop and we don't have to pay to replace it.

So, one: How likely is it that the swank laptop is going to die? It's made one funny noise and we think that one of the USB ports is damaged, but otherwise hasn't seemed ill at all.

Two: How fraudy is it to claim these laptops when they've been returned to us? What if they really had been dead (the police assumed they would be when they handed them to us)?

Three: How fraudy is it to claim the other laptop, which is cheaper, is my work laptop, and would probably have been replaced at no cost to us anyway?

We feel like this: If the laptop is likely to die, we want to go ahead and claim it, because it's going to cost a lot to replace and it bums us out to think we'd have to eat the cost of that due to some dumb thieves. If it is not, we're pretty clear on the moral implications of claiming it anyway and we probably (heh) would not do so.

We are aware that there is sometimes a penalty for making claims at all, but our agent assures us that we wouldn't have a problem with this and our premium would not go up.

Any advice is welcome!
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Your premium absolutely WILL go up if you file a claim, and it will probably never come back down. (Technically, it's supposed to be dropped from your record after some number of years, but that's not generally practiced in real life.) You'll end up paying much more in the increased premiums than the price of a new laptop or two.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:58 PM on June 13, 2011

IANYL, but in most states, it's not fraud as long as you don't conceal or withhold any information that would be relevant to someone interested in buying these. Since only the foolish form emotional attachments to electronics, I'd look more at the loss in value. Would you buy one of these for anything close to its value the day before the theft? Probably not.

I'd have it evaluated and get a tech to write you a note with their opinion, which will be that the life will be unpredictably short and that you should immediately retrieve all of your data and load it onto a reliable replacement.

Before you do anything else, you might want to review your policy to see how they will value your electronics, and then to your agent to see how (or whether) this will affect your rates. Most of the time, I expect the insurance company to pay for a replacement that is similar in relevant respects to the pre-incident property (i.e., same age and wear) which may not be as good as outright replacement. Good luck!
posted by Hylas at 3:05 PM on June 13, 2011

You will have to eat the cost whether it's in a new laptop or increased insurance rates. I wouldn't draw attention to myself from the insurance company unless some part of my house needed to be replaced and I couldn't feasibly use credit cards to get the work done.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:07 PM on June 13, 2011

The other thing you should consider is your deductible. If you're like most homeowners, your deductible is somewhere between $500 and $2,000. That's the money you pay before insurance pays anything. So, the insurance is going to mark down your electronics (they will NOT value them as new and give you the replacement cost unless they *are* new - less than a month - or you have a very fancy policy), charge you the deductible and then raise your premiums. So, let's say you need to buy two new laptops and you splurge and spend a total of $3,000. How much of that do you expect to get back from the insurance company?

Without even looking at your policy I can be pretty sure that it will be less than $1,000. Let's say that you bought your old laptops for a total of $2,000 at the beginning of this year. I'm going to be VERY VERY generous and say that your insurance company would value them at $1,000. (This is insane, BTW. You would be lucky to fight them up to $900.) Then subtract your deductible, which let's say is $500 (again, probably not true). So, now we have the insurance company covering $400 for new laptops, yay! But your rates will go up. (Your agent is lying. They will go up. And if you ever change companies, it's on your record and your rates will be higher. And if you get a new agent because yours retires, your rates will be higher. She really can't assure you that the rates won't go up.) And they will go up a lot. And that's all giving you the very very very best possible situation. More likely, the two laptops are worth about $900 once you take into account depreciation and your deductible is much higher than $500.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:24 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"They'd been outside for three days, in 90+F weather and at least one rain shower."

90 degree weather won't hurt your machine (these server nop constraints are typical for computer equipment and your machine probably spent several days in a container or truck at temperatures above 90 before you bought it). And rain falling on a laptop, as long as the unit isn't submerged or powered up when wet, is fairly benign. It's quite possible you'll still get several years of life out of your laptop.
posted by Mitheral at 6:11 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, I'll go ahead and out myself--I posted this. I was only anonymous in case we did decide to do something slightly fraudy.

In the end, we decided not to claim anything, based mostly on Mitheral's advice combined with the advice of a couple of techie friends. Our laptops are still just fine, and probably will be fine. We had a $500 deductible and we were aware of the depreciation--we also had a door repair bill that was part of this dilemma, which I forgot to mention in the original post.

As far as rates going up, we weren't too worried about it--we understand and believe that this happens, sometimes, but anecdotally we were able to find just as many examples where it didn't happen, and we had written assurance from our agent that it wouldn't be a problem with one claim. However, with more than one claim, it becomes a significantly bigger risk, so getting ourselves on claim in the hole wasn't worth it.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by hought20 at 9:10 AM on June 16, 2011

One claim in the hole. Not "on." Oy.
posted by hought20 at 9:11 AM on June 16, 2011

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