Claims Commandments

Claims Commandment IX

Thou Shall Document the Claim File

See the full video at and at

Insurance claims handling is a person to person business where the claims handler, the insured and the claimant (if there is one) interact with each other. Because the interaction is not always perfect it is essential to document the interaction in the claims file whether hard paper or electronic and paperless. In addition to the fact that such documentation is good claims handling, it is required by most state insurance regulators and most Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations.

For example every professional claims handler must:

  1. Maintain all claim data that are accessible, legible and retrievable for examination so that an insurer shall be able to provide the claim number, line of coverage, date of loss date of payment of the claim, date of acceptance, denial or date closed without payment. This data must be available for all open and closed files for the current year and the four preceding years.
  2. Record in the file the date the licensee:
    1. received notice of the loss or claim,
    2. date(s) the licensee processed the claim and
    3. date the licensee transmitted or mailed every material and relevant document in the file; and
  3. Maintain hard copy files or maintain claim files that are accessible, legible and capable of duplication to hard copy. [California Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations, 10 CCR 2695.3 (a)]

Adjusters, claims handlers and any other claims personnel who maintain “working” or “field” files, should be aware that those additional files are part of the file and records required to be kept by the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations and are subject to examination by the Insurance Department.

The practice of being less cautious in the maintenance of “working” or “field” files should be discontinued. Every comment and note made in a claims file should be written as if it were addressed to “Dear Commissioner” or Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.” Although the claims file must be complete and informative for the Regulator it must also provide information sufficient for claims management to understand and authorize resolution of or denial of a claim.

All file destruction practices should be reviewed to ascertain that no file will be destroyed less than five years after it is opened nor less than four years after it is closed. Insurers should also maintain procedures to never destroy a file if litigation has started or is anticipated until after the litigation is resolved.

A diary system for the destruction of old files should be established by the insurer and its claims personnel with a requirement to keep the files at least two years longer than the required by the Department of Insurance or the local Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulation. Litigation, of course, requires extra precaution to protect the files.

If the files are scanned into computer media, microfilmed, or recorded in a method other than paper backups off site backup of the files should also be maintained.

If date stamps are not in use the insurer should provide a date stamp to each claims person so that the date of each action will be recorded in the file. If the insurer is “paperless” all incoming mail and documents must have imbedded in the image a date showing the date and time when the document was received or issued.

A mail log should also be maintained to establish dates of mailing of each document. If the insurer uses computer generated e-mail and logging the computer should be programmed to record the date and time of each entry in such a manner that the employee cannot modify or change the dates of any entry. All e-mail communications must be saved for up to five years in a searchable database or in connection with the electronic claims file.

All electronic records must be kept in such a manner that would allow a complete copy of the electronically recorded materials to be printed out in full so that it is available to produce to the Regulator or in discovery if litigation occurs. Every computer record should be kept with on-site and off-site back-ups of the records.

Every insurance regulator will usually conduct audits of insurers doing business in their state. Failure to properly document files as required by good claims handling, statutes or regulations will find the insurer facing fines and bad reports on the ability of the insurer to properly complete the promises made by the insurance policy.

Unfortunately claims people must also spend a great deal of their time documenting the file because about three percent of all claims result in litigation against the insurer. It is essential to every litigation that the insurer has a record of all investigation, documentation, expert analysis, and evaluation so that the file will establish that the insurance claims personnel acted properly and in good faith to resolve the claim. If the claim is investigated with the utmost good faith and the decisions are made in compliance with the facts and policy wording it will be available to protect the insurer against false allegations of bad faith.

The professional claims person will log every telephone call, keep every e-mail and letter in the claims file, and document everything done to deal with the claim. The professional claims person will treat everyone with whom he or she comes in contact with the utmost good faith and fair dealing.

For detail about my book California Fair Claims Settlement Practices 2022 and many more by Barry Zalma go to the Insurance Claims Library – the book is Available as a Kindle Book  and Available as a Paper Back

(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at and and receive videos limited to subscribers of Excellence in Claims Handling at to Excellence in Claims Handling at

Write to Mr. Zalma at; http://www.zalma.com; daily articles are published at Go to the podcast Zalma On Insurance at; Follow Mr. Zalma on Twitter at; Go to Barry Zalma videos at at; Go to Barry Zalma on YouTube-; Go to the Insurance Claims Library –

About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
This entry was posted in Zalma on Insurance. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.