Whether you lose property due to a wildfire or house fire, you may rely on your homeowner’s insurance or business insurance to cover the damages related to your loss: replacing your property, rebuilding, or taking care of much-needed repairs. Unfortunately, insurance companies may not automatically pay the compensation you expect following severe damages. Furthermore, they may try to limit the payment you can recover or even deny liability for your damages.
Follow these steps to help protect yourself when dealing with your insurance company after a fire. For more information, reach out to a California wildfire lawyer.
Secure your Property Against Further Damage
Depending on the damage that occurred and the steps you need to take, you may need to:
- Cover your roof to prevent any leaks.
- Turn off the water if a burst pipe contributed to water damage in your home.
- Boarding up the property to prevent further damage from animals or vandals.
- Stopping any smoldering throughout the property so that it does not catch on fire again.
- Put in fans to help avoid further water damage.
While you cannot go back in time and undo the damage to your property, these key steps may help you avoid further damage. Not only can that make it easier to repair or replace items throughout the property, it will also show the insurance company that you have done everything in your power to avoid further damages, which may help with your insurance claim.
Take Photos Of The Damage
Take photos of:
- The structure of your home, including any obvious points of damage to the structure.
- Damage to key items throughout your home or business, including artwork, electronics, and other valuables.
- Damage to any items that you have specifically insured, including jewelry and collectibles.
Having photo evidence of the damage to your property can help as you progress through your claim, particularly if the insurance company questions when damage occurred.
Contact a Lawyer To Help With Your Claim
Working with a lawyer can greatly impact the compensation you can recover for fire damages to your home. Often, lawyers have a stronger understanding of what it will take to realistically process your claim and pursue the compensation you deserve for those damages.A lawyer can also help with several essential details that may accompany your claim.
- Evaluating your insurance policy to see what type of coverage you have for those damages. Your insurance policy will include essential details of what compensation you can expect when the insurance company pays out compensation for the damages to your home. However, a lawyer can ensure that the insurance company does not decrease the compensation it offers and that you fully understand what riders you carry as part of your policy.
- Looking over the damage you sustained to your home and helping you understand the value of those items and the compensation you can claim.
- Providing you with more information about other areas of compensation you might expect following a fire, including compensation for staying in a hotel or making other living arrangements after the fire.
- Negotiating with the insurance company for you, which can help reduce your stress levels and make you feel more confident about the compensation you can recover.
Taking your claim to court for you if the insurance company does not pay reasonable compensation for your damages.Having a lawyer on your side can make it much easier to deal with the devastating aftermath of fire damage to your home. A lawyer will focus on your best interests and your needs, including your financial needs, after the fire, which can help you determine what compensation to expect and how to deal with the insurance company to maximize that compensation.
Document Your Losses
Take a walk through your house and document everything you lost in the fire. Structural damage can prove difficult and expensive enough to remedy. The damage to your property, however, can prove even more devastating. Even in areas the fire did not reach directly, you may have smoke or water damage as firefighters fought to save your property.
Document Specific Material Losses
Pay attention to the specific material losses you have as a direct result of the fire. You may have lost electronics, collectibles, books, jewelry, and other valuable items. Document those items as you go to ensure you have as accurate a record as possible of the specific things damaged by the fire.
You may not need to document every small item damaged in the fire, but you should document all large-value items. Make sure to pay particular attention to things like art, jewelry, and collectibles that you may have insured individually to claim compensation for those losses.
Record Damage to the Structure
You may want to note any obvious damage to the structure of your home as you move through the property. Your insurance company will send in an adjuster to look at the property damage, and you may have repairmen or contractors offer an estimate of the cost of repairs. However, if you notice any damage as you move around the property, take photographs and document what you see.
Make sure you note damage to outbuildings and other structures on the property, including your garage, shed, or gazebo. You may need to have separate insurance riders to cover the cost of repairs to those buildings. However, noting that damage can make it easier to include all your losses as part of a comprehensive property damage claim.
Keep Lodging Receipts
Often, after a fire, you cannot continue to live in your home. You may need to stay in a hotel for some time immediately after the fire, especially if you had to evacuate quickly. In other cases, you may need to live in a rental property or use a mobile home to provide temporary housing.
Often, your insurance policy will cover the cost of temporary housing after your fire. However, you may need to carefully document what you have spent on that housing to ensure you have coverage for those specific expenses. If you do not have copies of your receipts, the insurance company may not acknowledge the cost of those housing needs.
Note the Cost of Repairs
You should not start repairs on your home until the insurance company can appraise the damage and look over your claim. However, you may need to start repairs after the appraisal and before the insurance money comes through. Keep track of any estimates or bills you may receive as you take care of those repairs. You may want to keep receipts for any materials you may have purchased to deal with the damage to your property yourself, and the cost of any contractor hired to help deal with that damage.
Keep Paying Your Insurance Premiums.
However, you should not discontinue insurance payments while waiting for a payout from the insurance company.
- First, you should ensure you still have coverage on the structure since disaster can sometimes strike a second time.
- Second, you need to ensure ongoing coverage for any expenses associated with repairs to the property or going without the use of your home, including your lodging costs.
You may also find the insurance company much more difficult to deal with if you discontinue coverage or change insurance companies for any reason.
File Your Claim As Soon After The Incident As Possible
After a structural fire, you need to start moving forward with your insurance claim as soon as possible. Contacting your insurance company can prove particularly important after a wildfire when many others throughout your local area may have similar damage and need the insurance company’s attention.
By contacting the insurance company early, you can help move yourself to the top of the list and get the insurance company’s attention faster, which may help clear your claim more easily. Furthermore, filing your claim soon after the incident will show your dedication to moving through the process and may avoid claims that something other than the fire caused damage to your property.
Avoid Rushing To Accept A Settlement Offer
When you receive a settlement offer for property damage after a fire, you may feel tempted to take it as soon as possible. You have major repair costs, many property to replace, and many financial concerns accompanying your losses. However, you cannot afford to rush the claim process in many cases.
Insurance companies will often issue initial settlement offers that reflect only a percentage of the damages you will have to deal with as you repair your home. They may try to minimize their payout in any way possible, including pressuring you to accept that offer fast. However, when you accept, you prevent yourself from pursuing further compensation for those damages later. You may end up without the funds you need to complete repairs or to cover your expenses while you wait to return to your home, even though you have an insurance policy that should cover those damages.
Talk about any settlement offer you might receive with your attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether the offer reflects the damages you suffered as a direct result of the accident and how you may need to proceed moving forward. If you need to continue negotiating, an attorney can help you determine how to best shape those negotiations.
Determine The Cause Of The Fire And Whether You May Need To Pursue Compensation From Another Source
In many cases, fires occur due to blatant accidents that no one could have prevented. Sometimes, however, fires occur due to negligence on the part of another party.
For example, a negligent electrician could fail to properly install the lines in your home, which could lead to an electrical fire; or a damaged product might spark, causing your home to catch on fire. If you can identify a specific party that negligently caused your fire, you may have the right to pursue damages from that party.
A lawyer can look over the reports from the fire and clearly identify who likely caused it, then, if needed, file a claim against the party that caused the fire so that you can pursue the full compensation you deserve.
Do You Need an Attorney After a Fire?
If you lost property due to fire damage, you may need an attorney to help guide you through your insurance claim and provide you with more information about how to handle the claim process. Contact an attorney as soon after the fire as possible to start working toward a resolution that reflects the damages you actually sustained and the financial losses that occurred as a direct result of the fire.