Filing a Fire Damage Claim

Interior Of Burnt HomeIn light of the recent brush fires that destroyed acres of land damaged numerous homes in New Jersey last week, this week we’d like to focus our blog on the process of claims and preparation for fire damage to a home or business.

Last week South Jersey was hit with a number of brush fires that destroyed thousands of acres of forest. The dry, windy weather continues to threaten the region with its prime brush fire conditions.

Thankfully, due to the New Jersey Fire and Police Departments the fires were well managed, the damage has been labeled as “minimal” and there have been no casualties. The efforts and actions of those who helped are greatly admired! Even so, minimal damage is still on many property owner’s minds.

Which leads us to this week’s topic, dealing with your insurance company when it comes to fire damage.

There are a few scenarios that may occur in the case of fire damage ranging from complete loss of property and long term evacuation to a very small amount of damage to the property and short term evacuation. In any case it’s best to follow the same procedure listed below, adjusting it to your specific needs, when filing a fire damage claim.

Request an Advance

Every second counts when someone is in the path of a fire. If you need to evacuate your home there won’t be much time to prepare. Hopefully you’ve prepared an emergency bag well in advance and are able to take it with you, but in case that isn’t possible you’ll need to replace necessary items such as toiletries, cloths and food for the following days. Most policies will cover the cost of these replacement items, but you don’t have to wait for your claim to be approved before purchasing them.

Immediately after the evacuation, request and advance for your future claim. You may request that your agent bring a check to you wherever you are straying while you’re displaced from your home.

Don’t Go On a Shopping Spree

When replacing items keep three things in mind

  1. Check your policy; if you only have a basic replacement coverage in your policy it may not be sufficient. Talk to your agent about adding coverage onto your policy in this area BEFORE a disaster strikes. After the fact will be too late!
  2. Keep ALL your receipts, from immediate needs to living expenses to rebuilding needs. This is a case where the more the better rings true.
  3. Replace items based on what you had, not what you want (meaning, if you wear a nice Kenneth Cole $200 dollar suit to work every day don’t go out and buy a  $2000 Armani one… that won’t be covered).

Mitigate Damages

All policies require that the policy home take the proper steps to minimize harm to the property, in legal terms this is known as “mitigating damages”. Some examples of this would be having your fire detectors with working batteries before the fire, stopping the smoldering after the fire and boarding up your home to prevent vandalism or theft while you’ve been evacuated.

File a Claim

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Call or email your agent ASAP after the fire and informing them that you’ve suffered a loss. There is more paperwork to follow, but that first call must be made immediately after the fire so that your notice of damage is recorded on time. Your agent will file an ACORD claim, which is basically a notice of property loss. Request a copy of this so that you have proof that you notified the company in a timely manner.

Keep In Touch with Your Agent

In the midst of a disaster it’s not easy to keep track of how your agent is handling your claim, but your efforts will pay off! If you relay the message clearly to your insurance company that you are keeping an eye on them the more likely your claim will be dealt with properly.

Gather Estimates

You’re policy should cover your costs whether your property needs to be completely rebuilt or if there needs to be repairs. Start gathering estimates from reputable contractors who have experience not only in building but in dealing insurance companies … but don’t sign anything yet!

Your Insurance company will send an adjuster to your home who will give you an estimate as well, but you are not obligated to accept it.

Consider hiring your own adjuster (a certified public adjuster) who will work for YOU to get you the settlement you deserve.

Continue Paying Your Premium

It may seem odd to continue paying for something you don’t have, but you must continue these payments in order the get the settlement you deserve, including additional expenses that may come up while you’re out of your home (liability coverage for example)

Don’t Settle For a Settlement

You’re insurance company will want to wrap this up and quickly (and cheaply) as possible. Don’t jump at the first settlement they offer. Often additional damages are found after your initial claim that you will want to include in your covered losses, and you have every right to do that! Wait at least a few months before closing your claim.

As a precautionary note: your insurance company might try to trick you into closing the file by sending you a check with a statement saying that you are accepting the payment “in full release of your claim”. Don’t let them do this! Cross out that line, initial it and send a copy back to the company thanking them for the offer but that you don’t consider the claim to be closed.

It may feel like this situation is out of your hands but in truth you hold the keys and the rights to your settlement. Don’t sign off on your claim until your satisfied with the conditions.