A homeowners insurance policy covers damage from fires—like those in southern and northern California. And like those wildfires in California that raged throughout Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte, Tulare and Solano, it’s important for everyone to know how to file a homeowners insurance claim after disaster occurs.
Types of Insurance Coverage
The Basic Form insures your property against a basic list of perils, such as fire, wind, hail, lightning, and theft. A standard homeowners insurance policy includes dwelling coverage. That includes protection for the structure of the home including the floors, walls, built-in appliances, and ceilings it also includes any attached structures, like a garage. Contents coverage will cover items like furniture and clothing in the home.
A typical homeowners insurance policy also covers wildfire-caused damage to trees, shrubs, and plants for a dollar amount up to 5% of the amount of coverage for the entire dwelling. In addition, many policies include debris removal, but the amount depends on the policy.
Understanding Key Terms in Your Policy
All policies are not the same, and most homeowners buy their insurance coverage based on cost, rather than the specific coverage it provides.
This may seem economically reasonable at the time, but when filing a homeowners insurance claim, many factors will be considered to calculate your compensation. Replacement cost coverage will cover the cost of repairing or replacing your home and any lost or damaged items. Actual cash value coverage pays the value of the home and the damaged personal property inside—less depreciation.
Loss of use coverage is a key term of an insurance policy that’s often overlooked. This concerns the amount of time it will take to repair or rebuild. It covers the loss of the use of your home and additional living expenses like a temporary apartment or hotel, meals, and transportation. Some policies may only partially cover temporary living costs, which can create difficulties as people try to rebuild and cover their temporary living costs.
An additional challenge faces Californians: the time it takes to rebuild. Twenty-four months of coverage may appear to be enough time to rebuild, but in California, a regular wildfire season makes it difficult to secure qualified contractors who are available to begin work when you need it. And most insurance policies don’t consider these types of external factors that present obstacles for displaced homeowners. Plus, insurers are overwhelmed by numerous homeowners insurance claims when a wildfire strikes, further slowing the rebuilding process.
Steps to Reimbursement
When filing a homeowners insurance claim, contact your insurance company’s claims department. They’ll assign a claims adjuster, who’s tasked with assessing the damage and submitting an estimate for review. To ensure that you’re fully reimbursed by your insurance company, follow these tips:
- Document all losses. Take pictures of the damage and list all items destroyed or needing repairs. Include the amount you paid for the items and collect any receipts you have. This will speed up the claims-filing process.
- Check the adjuster’s credentials. After a disaster like a wildfire, criminals can swoop in with insurance scams. Guard against this by asking the insurance company for the claims adjuster’s name before they arrive—then check their identification when they visit.
- Show the adjuster all the damage. Make sure that the adjuster gets a complete view of every item that was lost or damaged.
- Document interactions with the insurance company. After the adjuster finishes, stay in contact via email to record all your communication. Keep a “diary” of the adjuster visits, phone calls (even if you leave a message), and the content of your conversations. This documentation will be helpful if your claim escalates or a dispute must be resolved in court.
- Make copies. Copy everything you give to the claims adjuster. If the adjuster tells you to begin your repairs, get that in writing. In an emergency situation like a large California wildfire, the initial adjuster may be replaced by a new one during the claims process—another reason why your documentation is valuable.
- Obtain estimates if needed. It may be worthwhile to get an outside estimate from a local contractor, especially if you have any custom work in your house.
- Make sure you understand what’s your policy covers. Note that a standard homeowners policy will cover damage caused by firefighters while extinguishing the fire in your home.
Reviewing the Payout
In the event that the insurance company says your policy doesn’t cover specific damage, or if you believe the payout is low, request that they explain in writing how the adjuster arrived at that estimate. Ask them to include any reasons certain items aren’t covered and if there are any coverage limits. If you still believe your insurance company is not providing you the proper compensation after filing a homeowners insurance claim, you may need to consider pursuing an insurance bad faith suit.
It’s important to have a seasoned professional working with you on your insurance to review the fine print and explain why it may be worth the additional premium cost. This can make a significant difference if disaster strikes.
And when purchasing an insurance policy, don’t be pennywise and pound foolish. Make sure your policy has a strong “loss of use” provision and sufficient coverage to help in a wildfire crisis.
Thompson Law Offices is here to answer any of your questions about your homeowners insurance claim. All consultations are free.
We encourage you to contact our office to speak with one of our experienced injury lawyers to ensure you receive the maximum compensation available to you from your homeowners insurance claim. Call 1-650-513-6111 to speak with us.