We’ve all heard the saying. “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a few minutes.” Well, we didn’t have to wait long for the unusually heavy rains of June 2022 to turn into an unprecedented heat wave in July. With all that moisture gone, drought is back.
So is the risk of wildfires.
Right now, there is significant wildfire burning near Woodward, Oklahoma. It’s 11 miles long and has burned up more than 18,000 acres. Dozens of homes have been evacuated.
Luckily, most homeowners have Homeowner’s Insurance Policies that provide benefits for lost property if their home is damaged by a fire. Many renters also have Renter’s Insurance Policies that also provide benefits for property lost in a fire.
If you don’t have an insurance policy that will help you get back on your feet after a fire, reach out to your insurance agent and get one. It’s a worthwhile investment.
If you have a Homeowner’s or Renter's Insurance Policy, here’s what you need to do right now to make sure future insurance claims go smoothly.
- Know your insurance policy. Most fire insurance policies provide benefits for the loss of your personal property and “Additional Living Expense Coverage,” also known as “Loss of Use Coverage,” associated with a fire. Homeowner’s Insurance Policies pay benefits to rebuild or repair your home through “Dwelling Coverage."
- “Personal Property Coverage” coverage pays you back for the value of items like clothing, toys, electronics, and furniture that are damaged or destroyed by smoke and fire.
- “Additional Living Expense Coverage” and Loss of Use coverage pays for a place for you to live and the increased cost of living there until you and your family can get back on your feet
- “Dwelling Coverage” benefits cover the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home. These benefits are designed to place your home in the same condition it was in before the fire with the same kind and quality of materials used before the fire. This includes the situation where your home has to be totally rebuilt.
- “Replacement Cost” versus “Actual Cash Value.” Homeowner’s and Renter’s Insurance Policies pay benefits based on either the Actual Cash Value or Replacement Value of what was lost. The Replacement Value, often referred to as “RC,” is the cost of replacing what was lost with something of equivalent value. The Actual Cash Value, often referred to as “ACV,” of an item is determined by identifying the Replacement Cost of what was lost and depreciating the value based on its age, condition, useful life, and other factors. Many insurance policies pay the ACV of lost items and provide supplemental payments when the items are actually replaced. You’ll need to check your insurance policy to determine how your policy pays.
- Take an Inventory. If you need make a claim under your insurance policy for a fire loss, you’ll be responsible for helping the insurance company investigate and evaluate what was lost. This requires you to be able to list everything that was damaged or destroyed, the condition it was in, when and where it was purchased, and how much you paid for it. Likewise, you’ll need to be able to show your insurance company the general condition your home was in before the fire. A great way to do this is to take a video inventory of the home. Get out your cell phone, start the video, and film each room of your home. Narrate the video by explaining what you see, describe in as much detail as you can the various items of personal property you own and, if possible, where and when you purchased the item, as well as how much you paid for it. The process can be time-consuming but will be worth it if you ever need to make a fire loss claim.
- Store valuable documents and data away from your home. Birth certificates, automobile titles, insurance policies, and other records can be difficult to replace. Store these documents in a safety deposit box or other secure place away from your home. Although these documents might not help you with an insurance claim, you won’t have to deal with replacing them in the wake of a devastating fire loss. Likewise, the data on our personal electronic devices can be destroyed during a fire. Regularly save your data in a cloud-based data storage system or on an external hard drive kept in a secure off-site location.
- Cooperate with your insurance company. Insurance companies handling fire loss claims in Oklahoma are required to handle your claim with the utmost of good faith and fair dealing. This means they must conduct a thorough investigation your claim, fairly evaluate the facts, and promptly pay everything that is owed to you under the terms of your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Policy. But an insurance company handling a fire claim can’t do it alone. Your insurance policy requires that you cooperate with your insurance company by providing prompt notice of your claim, responding to their requests for information, and providing a statement and or documents related to your lost property. Refusing to cooperate with your insurance company can be grounds for the denial of an otherwise valid fire loss claim.
- If you have trouble, ask for help. Although most insurance claims are resolved quickly and fairly, some are not. Claims can be and are delayed, undervalued, or denied when they should be paid. If you believe that your insurance claim is not being handled properly, reach out to a qualified Oklahoma insurance lawyer for help.