Wildfires can occur anywhere and at any time. The warm months have a rise in frequency due to high temperatures and dry climate conditions. During the fire season, people have a greater risk of experiencing damage from flames, smoke, and soot.
The destruction typically costs survivors thousands of dollars. To assist with recovery efforts, insurance companies have a process to give people access to funds. However, a claimant’s insurance may not cover everything for fire loss.
If you own property in California, you know that wildfires are a significant threat–especially in the dry months of the year. That is why many property owners purchase fire insurance, to protect against the financial damages that a fire can cause. Sadly, insurance doesn’t always cover everything in your fire loss.
But what if your insurer is not offering what your property is worth? Or what if they claim that the fire was caused by something their policy does not cover?
Unfortunately, this does happen. That’s when you need a fire damage attorney by your side to make sure you are getting the full compensation you deserve. At Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer & Frankel, we have represented thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by preventable fires.
Reasons why insurance companies deny you coverage
It is no secret that insurance companies try to find every excuse they can to deny you coverage. This is especially true when it comes to fire insurance since the most obvious proof of your losses has often been destroyed.
Here are some of the reasons why you might not be getting your full damages covered, or why you might not be getting any coverage at all:
- Your policy does not cover the losses you thought it did: The reality is that many property owners in California are underinsured. Maybe the insurance company included exceptions into the policy that you didn’t notice when signing. Or maybe you decided not to purchase more comprehensive coverage that included business disruption. Whatever the reason, underinsurance is a common reason why people struggle to get fair compensation for their losses after a fire.
- Your property has been undervalued: A fire can not only destroy property, but also the proof that the property ever existed. Far too frequently we see clients struggle with convincing insurance companies that the items and property they say they lost in the fire were actually lost. In such a case, you can benefit from having a fire damage attorney on your side to help make sure your property is accurately valued and assessed.
- Your insurance company’s investigation or report is misleading: In some cases, your insurance company may do an inadequate or self-serving investigation of the fire. We can challenge such a misleading investigation, and using the investigation of an independent fire investigator, prove up your damages.
How to recover your full damages from your insurance company
An attorney with experience representing people who have suffered from fire damage will be able to help you in any of these situations.
Here’s how we do it:
- We conduct an investigation to determine what the cause of the fire was and gather evidence to demonstrate that cause.
- We gather evidence of the losses our client has already experienced, and we prove the loss in profit or income our client and their family will suffer in the future as a result of the fire damage.
- We present this evidence to the party responsible for the fire. We then attempt to negotiate a fair resolution that takes into consideration all of the ways our client’s life has been impacted.
- We refuse to settle for less than what our client’s case is worth. We use our team of experts and our skill as trial lawyers to prove to a jury exactly why our clients deserve full compensation for their losses.
What Does Insurance Cover in a Fire Claim?
Homeowners can get coverage for their homes if natural disasters like wildfires occur. Over 72 million homes have the potential to sustain damage from an uncontrolled fire. People living in high-risk areas likely have the policy to protect their property if an emergency occurs.
The cost of premiums and deductibles may go up if the area someone is in is at extreme risk of wildfire damage. Nevertheless, a person’s policy covers a variety of items and structures on their land. A person should go over the specifics of their plan to ensure they claim every damage their insurance entitles them to report.
Wildfire insurance comes with several coverage types.
Your insurer helps pay for:
- Your dwelling. Fires tend to destroy houses and any attached structures. An insurance claim offers payment for all the repairs you need to make. Your policy financially assists with rebuilding the home as well.
- Loss of use. Severe damage to the house’s structure may make it unfit for someone to occupy. As a result, you have to spend money on hotel rooms. Insurance companies typically offer coverage for alternative living expenses.
- Vegetation. The fire may have harmed your lawn, trees, shrubs, and plants around your property. Insurance covers the cost of restoring the vegetation.
- Detached structures. Wildfire insurance typically offers protection for any detached structures around the property. A damaged pool, garage, fence, or gazebo increases the value of your claim. Many plans place a limit on how much claimants get for repairs.
- Personal belongings. Many residents lose electronics, clothes, furniture, jewelry, and family heirlooms. The amount someone receives depends on their policy limits and the value of each damaged item.
Wildfire insurance helps give people a chance to get back on their feet. However, the process can be slow and frustrating for several claimants.
What You Need to Do to File a Fire Claim
Document Your Inventory
One of the first steps is to take inventory of all your possessions. Document where the damages are and the extent of them. You can take photos or video footage of the state of your home in case the adjuster begins to argue insurance fraud.
Despite the mess the fire left, try to keep everything in its place if you can. Do not throw away debris or ruined clothing. Physical evidence helps support your claim and get you a fair amount of compensation.
You likely will have to fill out a “proof of loss” form. The proof of loss form is a way the claimant declares the amount of smoke and fire damage in their home. Insurance adjusters heavily use the document as part of the fire claim process.
You must write as many details as possible in the proof of loss form. You may need to include estimates and other supporting documents to confirm the accuracy of your claim. Then, you have to submit the paperwork before a specific date.
Call the Insurance Company
Next, contact your insurance company to report the damage. The insurer may send an agent to assess your property. They evaluate every affected structure and item to calculate the total value of your losses. They create an estimate of how much the insurance company can pay you.
Documentation of the damage is necessary when the insurance adjuster visits. The adjuster is less likely to argue the validity of your claim if all the debris remains in place.
Reach out to a Lawyer
The submission of a wildfire claim is not an easy task for everyone. While a few people can file one successfully on their own, others may need the help of a lawyer. A fire attorney protects your claim and negotiates with the insurance company.
Whether the insurer denies your claim or offers less money, a lawyer may be able to help. Find a fire damage firm near you to increase your chances of fair compensation.
Fire Insurance Policy Limits
Among the burned structures, around 60 percent of them are residences. Due to the number of people filing claims, insurers have implemented coverage limits in their policies. Usually, insurance companies pay up to how much money you would need to rebuild the entire house.
Meanwhile, coverage for shrubs, personal items, and other structures limits the potential compensation. A claim generally offers a percentage of the dwelling coverage to pay the costs of other damaged property. Personal belongings might be 50 percent, and detached structures could be worth 10 percent.
Coverage caps might mean you do not get enough money to repair and replace everything. However, funds could be insufficient due to the adjuster instead of a policy limit. Some adjusters look for reasons to pay less for people’s claims.
Reasons for a Denied Fire Damage Claim
Wildfires in the United States result in a loss of an estimated $16.5 billion annually. Land and buildings require restoration due to damages from flames, smoke, and embers. A significant portion of the expenses is from citizens since their homes and businesses suffer. In addition, some have to pay medical bills for injuries or smoke inhalation.
The reconstruction of a single home alone can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance can pay for part or all of the expenses since many places regularly experience wildfires every year. However, claimants may face issues when they try to file a claim for reimbursement.
One difficulty is a denied claim. Insurers tend to look for ways to limit how much they have to pay, especially when multiple people request compensation for fire damage. As a result, an adjuster may reject a person’s claim.
The arguments the insurer may use are:
- The damage is less severe. Before you file a claim, you need to document everything. However, the adjuster might believe you reported the damage to be more excessive than it is. They could reduce or deny the claim as a result.
- Prior damage. The adjuster might attribute some of the damage to a past accident. The property can experience weathering and maintenance issues over time. Therefore, the insurer could use natural degradation against your claim.
- File past the deadline. Victims of fires have a limited time to seek financial assistance. Their state generally provides additional time if the government declares a state of emergency for the wildfire. Nevertheless, the adjuster can deny late claims.
- Lack of documentation. The insurance adjuster needs records to prove the value of the items in your home and the estimated cost of repairs. Without the evidence, the insurer might deny a part of the claim or reduce the payout.
- A misleading investigation. A few adjusters do an inadequate assessment when they evaluate the property. They might report the damage to be less severe to save money.
Insurance companies typically have to process each fire claim. However, they may have strategies to avoid many large payouts. Insurers can act in bad faith, but a fire damage attorney can protect your rights.
What to Do When Your Insurance Does Not Cover Everything
Hire a Lawyer to Protect Your Rights
If the insurance company tries to lowball you with your compensation, you may not be out of options. Contact a lawyer if the payment from your insurer does not cover all your losses. A fire damage attorney has experience ensuring claimants get the money they deserve.
If the insurer unfairly undervalued your damages, a lawyer can help you dispute the claim. One way they do so is by investigating the claim. An attorney determines the value of your damages and finds evidence to support your case. They explain your rights as a claimant and review what options you have.
Your lawyer has access to resources to evaluate the losses accurately. They may hire an expert to examine the property and find the extent of the damage the adjuster may have overlooked. They provide an unbiased assessment, and the attorney uses the report to prove the insurance company acted in bad faith.
Furthermore, a fire damage lawyer handles communication with your insurer. They fight for your right to recover fair compensation.
File a Lawsuit
You may be able to recover additional reimbursement with a lawsuit if the insurance company underpays you. During their investigation, your lawyer may discover negligence or malicious intent caused the fire instead of natural causes. As a result, the law could entitle you to a lawsuit settlement.
A power company could have been careless with some of its equipment. They might not have prevented a malfunction despite knowing the potential hazard. Alternatively, an individual might be responsible for an unattended campfire or using fireworks recklessly.
No matter who is responsible for a wildfire, your lawyer can bring them to justice. They negotiate with the other party to increase the odds of the outcome ending in your favor. You can learn how an attorney may be able to assist you during a free consultation.
How to Negotiate With the Insurer
You do not have to accept the first offer from the insurance company. You can attempt to negotiate with the adjuster for a fair deal. Begin with a letter to the claims adjuster to explain why you believe the proposed amount is too low. Include copies of the evidence you collected and wait for a response from the insurer.
When you are building support for your claim, get multiple repair estimates. The records show the exact value of what you lost in the fire. Additionally, gather other documents as evidence of the severity of the fire and smoke damage. Have everything ready to show the adjuster to help prove your argument.
Review the terms of your insurance plan. If you fully understand your policy, the adjuster is less likely to mislead you during negotiations. In addition, you can better discuss each part of the claim.
During negotiations, you and the adjuster go back and forth on the key points of the claim. You may have multiple conversations, so you should take notes for each one. Additionally, ask the agent to provide a list of reasons for their decision. You can refer to the notes and the list when you make your counterarguments.
Be honest about the details of the fire damage. The adjuster may be less likely to change their initial offer if they learn a fact is untrue. A recorded inventory of your damaged property helps you provide an accurate statement.
Have an estimated compensation amount already in mind. You can use the number as a starting point in your negotiations. Do not budge if the adjuster tries to pressure you into lowering the dollar figure below what you would accept.
Negotiations with an insurance adjuster can be intimidating. You can consult a lawyer, especially if the insurer refuses a fair settlement.
What Else Does a Fire Damage Claim Include?
A compensation claim for fire damage can include losses other than property damage. You may have suffered from burn injuries, or smoke inhalation harmed your health. As a result, you needed to go to the hospital to treat your condition. Extensive treatment means more medical bills to pay.
In addition to the healthcare costs, you may have been unable to return to your job. Your injuries could have kept you from work, or the uncontrolled fire affected your ability to travel. Pay stubs and tax forms show how much money you lost in income.
In some cases, a fire results in a person’s death. If you lost a loved one, a compensation claim reimburses you for the expenses related to funeral and burial services. The settlement could cover the medical bills if the loved one needed treatment before their death.
Lastly, many people claim noneconomic damages in their settlements. Damage from the fire can cause survivors pain and suffering. You may recover compensation for mental anguish and other emotional harms.
Contact Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer & Frankel
At Reiner, Slaughter, Mainzer & Frankel, representing families who have suffered losses due to wildfires is what we do.
We have been trusted by over 1,600 people to represent them in relation to fires caused by PG&E and have been active in forcing PG&E to create a $13.5 billion fund to compensate fire victims.
Contact us for a free consultation today.