Every late summer and early fall wildfires rage in many parts of the West and Southwest, as the fires running almost the length of California this year show. Thousands of homes have burned to the ground and thousands of people have been displaced.
During this time of crisis, when you’ve lost what is for most people their largest investment, you’ll need to make sure that you get your claim paid fast so you can rebuild your life.
Do’s and Don’ts When Filing a Claim
If your home or property has been affected by wildfires, you’re likely planning to file an insurance claim. Here are some tips to help you maximize your compensation and get your settlement in a timely manner.
1. Safety first. Don’t re-enter your fire-damaged home without first checking with fire officials. They will schedule an initial walk-through with you. Before you go in to your fire-damaged home, read this Red Cross guide:
2. Prevent further damage. You have a duty to prevent unnecessary damage to your property, so:
- Promptly clean up accumulated water.
- Tarp or cover roof holes as necessary to keep water from getting into the interior.
- Move any intact property away from open or broken windows or holes in the roof so it does not get damaged by subsequent rain.
- Replace or board up broken windows
- Keep vandals and squatters out of the property. Repair fencing, gates and access, as necessary.
3. Gather information. Document your claims, as much as possible. To begin with, your initial claim request will require the following information:
- Date of loss
- Type of loss or damage (e.g., fire, smoke, water)
- Location of damage
- Injuries, if applicable
- Other parties involved (witnesses, fire department officials, etc.)
- Condition of the home, prior to the incident
- Itemized list of damaged or destroyed property
- Any temporary repairs made, the reason for these repairs, and their cost
- Official police or fire inspector reports.
4. Call us or your carrier. Don’t delay filing your claim. The sooner you file for reimbursement, the sooner you will receive it.
5. Take notes. Write down the claim number, and keep careful notes of every conversation, including whom you spoke with by name.
6. Throw nothing away. Don’t discard anything until it’s been inspected by an appraiser.
7. Claim smoke and water damages. Just because property was not directly damaged by flame doesn’t mean it’s not covered under your property insurance policy. You may have to throw away furniture, drapes and carpeting, replace flooring, drywall and wallpaper, and undergo expensive mold remediation. Account for all fire damage.
8. Assess the value of any lost trees or shrubs. These are also generally covered by homeowner’s insurance policies.
9. Don’t forget outbuildings. Include damaged or destroyed sheds, storage buildings, detached garages – as well as their contents – and even septic tanks and systems in your claim.
10. Check your car. If you have comprehensive coverage on your car, your auto insurance carrier should reimburse you for the fair market value of a totaled vehicle, or pay for damages (subtracting your deductible.)
11. Get an advance payment. Most insurers will advance you a substantial amount even while your final claim is still being processed. This allows you to start repairs right away to prevent further damage to your home, and may help you pay unexpected expenses such as emergency lodging.
12. Track your expenses. Keep receipts of any additional expenses you may incur as a result of being forced to evacuate your home. Most policies provide coverage for additional out-of-pocket expenses as a result of a fire or other covered peril. Examples of such temporary expenses include:
- Hotel bills
- Laundry and dry-cleaning expenses
- Restaurant meals while you can’t prepare meals at home
- Travel expenses.
13. Have the carrier pay you, directly. Some contractors will offer to do repairs for no money up front as long as you sign a contract authorizing them to bill your insurer directly. The practice may seem convenient, but usually doesn’t benefit the consumer.
14. Consider effects on home-based business. Your business insurance may help you with lost inventory, equipment and lost income from business interruption.