When fire gets a hold of something, there is nothing that an ordinary citizen can do to stop it. After the damage has been done, people turn to their insurance companies for help rebuilding their lives. All too often, the insurance company simply turns its back and denies fire damage claims. At Fulmer Sill, we are here to see that insurance companies fulfill their promises to their customers. Over the past couple of years, wildfires throughout our country have claimed the homes and businesses of thousands of people. As the imminent danger of the flames subside and are extinguished, many residents and business owners are left dealing with the bi product of the devastating fires—namely residual smoke, ash and soot. This lingering effect may not appear as dangerous as a wall of flames, however, in the long-term, it very well may be more dangerous. Smoke and ash damage is virtually impossible to detect unless you know how to look and where to look. In addition, smoke, soot and ash damage is more difficult for the average homeowner to prove, if they even know it exists. Most damage is not visible to the naked eye and thus insurance companies pretend it doesn’t exist.
WILDFIRE INSURANCE CLAIM SCENARIOS
Without doubt, the majority of property damage from a wildfire is caused by residual smoke, soot and ash, not the actual burning of structures. Regardless if your home or business suffered no actual fire damage the smoke, soot or ash can still result in compensable property damage.
- HOME/BUSINESS HAS BEEN COMPLETELY DESTROYED: In this situation, a total loss fire insurance claim would be necessary. Keep in mind, this isn’t like totaling a car on an auto insurance policy; In Texas, you will only be paid the amount it would cost to replace the property, regardless of how much insurance you carried.
- HOME/BUSINESS WAS PARTIALLY BURNED OR DESTROYED: If you find your property in this state, you will need to demonstrate to the insurer why those damaged areas need to be rebuilt instead of patched or repaired. They will of course try to pay you the lowest amount possible to make these reparations which is why you need legal representation.
- HOME/BUSINESS INTERIOR HAS BEEN DAMAGED BY SMOKE: This type of scenario will result in a very difficult claim. The insurer will typically send out a vendor to “clean” the property but this will not help replace the items that have been completely ruined. Convincing the insurance company to pay to replace such items will be very difficult.
WHY WAS MY WILDFIRE CLAIM DENIED?
As a for-profit entity, it is in the insurance company’s best interest to avoid payouts to policyholders; however, they must have a justifiable reason for denying a claim. Many states, including Florida, have adopted the Unfair Claim Settlement Practices Act (UCSPA), which aims to protect policy holders from wrongful or deceitful actions of their insurers. Some common forms of unfair claims handling include:
- UNDERVALUING DAMAGED PROPERTY
- ALLEGATIONS OF ARSON
- FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE IN A TIMELY MANNER
- DENIAL OF A TOTAL LOSS CLAIM DESPITE SUPPORTING EVIDENCE
- THREATS OF PROSECUTION TO THE INSURED IN AN ATTEMPT TO LOWER THE PAYOUT
- A CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE TERMS OF THE INSURANCE POLICY
Insurance companies may delay the valuation or payment of a claim alleging that fraud or arson played a role in the fire. Obviously, if arson was the cause of the fire—and that you played a role—your damages will not be covered and we would not represent you. However, it is important to know that the burden of proof is on the insurance company, and not on the homeowner. Without direct or circumstantial evidence, an insurance company that denies these claims may be acting in bad faith.
FIRST STEPS AFTER A WILDFIRE
Wildfires can occur anywhere and can destroy homes, businesses, infrastructure, natural resources, and agriculture. Wildfires are unplanned, unwanted fires that burn uncontrollably. They destroy natural resources, property and lives. People (98%), not lightning (2%), ignite most wildfires in our area. Most human ignitions are unintentional. Carelessness with debris burning, campfires, welding and other human activity is the most common cause of wildfires. Fires such as these can most easily be prevented. Here is a checklist to help you use your insurance and keep you on track during this stressful time.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR FAMILY’S IMMEDIATE NEEDS FIRST
- FINDING TEMPORARY HOUSING IS A PRIORITY
- START A CLAIM DIARY & TAKE NOTES
- TALK WITH YOUR INSURANCE ADJUSTER REGARDING CASH ADVANCES FOR LIVING EXPENSES & PROPERTY LOSS
- KEEP ALL RECEIPTS WHILE YOU ARE DISPLACED
- REQUEST A COMPLETE & CURRENT COPY OF YOUR INSURANCE POLICY
- TAKE PHOTOS OF YOUR PROPERTY BEFORE ANY CLEANUP
- DO NOT RUSH INTO SIGNING CONTRACTS. GET COPIES OF ALL PAPERWORK YOU DO SIGN
- REGISTER WITH A RED CROSS CASE MANAGER – THEY CAN HELP MAKE REFERRALS TO RESOURCES YOU MAY NEED
- REGISTER WITH FEMA & THE SBA
DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS RELATED TO A WILDFIRE INSURANCE DISPUTE?
If you or a loved one have been affected by a wildfire, we encourage you to consult with our team as soon as possible. With our extensive knowledge and expertise, you can rest assured that should you choose to work with us, you will have legal representation that you can trust. At Fulmer Sill, all initial consultations are free, and we don’t charge any up-front fees for representation. We handle all fees on a contingency basis, meaning that unless we’re successful, you don’t have to pay us. Please contact Fulmer Sill at (405)510.0077 for a free consultation.