5 Things to Know When Filing a Wildfire Insurance Claim
Firefighters continue to bravely battle the Hidden Pines wildfire in Bastrop County with 80% of the fire contained. The fire has already damaged or destroyed dozens of residential and commercial properties. As families and businesses begin the process of rebuilding, here are some tips for property owners when dealing with their insurance company.
Demand that your insurer hold up its end of the deal.
You have paid your hard-earned premiums for years, hoping you’ll never have to use the insurance policy you purchased. But now that day has unfortunately come. Make sure that your for-profit insurance carrier honors all of its obligations and strictly follows the law during your time of need. There are laws on the books requiring carriers to treat policyholders fairly and pay promptly. If you have any questions as to whether a carrier is dragging its heels, strong-arming, or low-balling you, seek legal advice.
Understand what you’re signing. Ask questions until you understand.
Never sign any documents that release your legal claims unless it is truly your intent to do so. Do not deposit any checks from insurers that have “settlement” written anywhere on them unless you have all of the facts about the value of your loss and are completely satisfied with the amount. Otherwise, you may inadvertently sell yourself short.
Take notes and document everything you can.
Try, at once, to make a list of your possessions. If at all possible and as soon as you can, obtain a repair estimate from a trusted local contractor to use as a guide in talking with the insurance company’s adjuster. Keep receipts from emergency repairs and any costs you incur in temporary housing. This may be reimbursable under the “loss of use” portion of your homeowners’ policy.
Keep a journal of all of your contact with or attempts to contact your insurance company. If they will not return your phone calls, fail to show at a scheduled appointment, or even if they are rude to you, write this down in a notebook. Log every conversation that you have with them. This could come in handy if you need to file a complaint or later need to talk to an attorney.
Ask for proof.
If your insurance company tells you that your policy does not cover the damage that occurred or you feel that the offer is too low, ask for proof. The burden is on them to point out the part of your policy that states what they are saying is correct.
Beware of fly-by-night contractors.
When you are looking to rebuild, only use a contractor with good references and an established presence in the area. Make sure to call those references and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions when checking the contractor out. Also, be sure to look into online consumer recommendation services to get reviews of contractors and other professionals. Ask the contractor in writing if he’s ever been sued for shoddy construction or payment disputes. Price several contractors, aggressively negotiate terms and deadlines, and do not sign any contracts that are front-loaded or force you into arbitration, which strips you of your constitutional right to trial.
These tips are for general informational purposes only and are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.