Wildfire Victims: Insurance Claims Tips for Property Owners

wildfire residential insurance claims public adjuster

For those affected by the recent wildfires in California, contact our local public adjusting firm, The Greenspan Co./Adjusters International for help with your property damage insurance claim at 888.473.3677.

Immediately Contact Your Insurance Company

Your insurance policy contract requires you to report the property damage claim to them promptly. Failure to do could possibly result in the denial of your claim. It is important to note that even if you must evacuate the premises, you are still obligated to contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Depending on your insurance company, this usually can be done over the phone or online.

Secure the Property and Premise

In a wildfire situation, this may be difficult to accomplish due to evacuations. However, when it is safe to return it is your responsibility as the policyholder to prevent additional damage to your property and reduce the possibility of a third party becoming injured by securing your property and the premise as best as possible. For a more in-depth explanation of your responsibilities, view our article, “Preserving and protecting your damaged property: What are your responsibilities?”

What May Be Covered

Extra Expenses

Your insurance policy will most likely include coverage for reimbursement of certain costs post-loss to continue your normal living or business activities. After a disaster, you will need to properly identify and document these expenses for your insurance claim. Your policy will most likely include coverage for items such as:

  • Additional living expenses for homeowners
    • Provides for a temporary living space if your home is inhabitable
    • Cost for transportation to school and work, if commute is now longer
    • Food costs in excess of your normal costs
  • Extra expenses for business
    • Extra costs to continue your normal operations and to mitigate your Business Interruption losses

Personal Property

Personal property includes items within your home or building that are not part of the real estate such as furniture, clothing, electronics, and other possessions. In order to submit a claim to the insurance company regarding wildfire damage to your possessions, you will need a complete detailed list of the damaged items.

Landscape – Trees/Shrubbery

Each insurance policy is unique and subject to different amounts of coverage pertaining to landscape losses. Refer to your policy to find out how much (either a percentage or an actual dollar amount will be proposed) coverage will apply.

Tracking Expenses

Throughout the process of filing your insurance claim until the final settlement check arrives, you will undoubtedly incur expenses as a result of having wildfire damage to your property. Keep a log of all activities and save all receipts, including those for property repairs and extra expenses. This will provide the documentation a disaster recovery professional requires to present your claim to your carrier, and you will know which expenses will be reimbursed as you rebuild.

Hiring a Public Adjuster

A public adjuster is an insurance professional who works only for you, the policyholder, not the insurance company. They have the special training and expertise to interpret the intricacies of your policy, evaluate and document the full scope of your damage, and negotiate a claim to maximize and expedite your financial recovery. A public adjuster will handle the entire claims process by:

  • Fully reviewing your insurance coverage,
  • Develop a claim strategy,
  • Determine policy compliance issues,
  • Complete detailed valuations of building, equipment, and inventory losses,
  • Negotiate on your behalf with your insurance company, and
  • Keep you informed every step of the way.

Recreating Personal Property/Inventory

Before you can file an insurance claim, you must fully document and inventory all of your damaged belongings. This can become even more difficult in the event of a wildfire as most of your possessions are completely destroyed. Very few people have ever prepared a current inventory list, or videotaped their belongings, before a loss and as result, are left to rely on memory.

Recreating your personal property inventory is a critical part of your insurance claim as you will not receive reimbursement for anything not included - so it is important to be as thorough as possible. You will need to include the quantity of each item owned, a description complete with model number, measurements (if applicable), the current replacement cost, and the age of each item.

Luckily, there are professionals who can help you with this process such as public adjusters and inventory specialists.

Beware of Consumer Scams

It is a sad but unfortunate truth: after a disaster strikes, people running post-disaster scams can pry on vulnerable victims. Scammers spare no profession in their ploys. They claim to be contractors, public adjusters, attorneys, FEMA inspectors, government workers and even from charitable organizations.

As a general rule, you should never disclose personal information (such as your Social Security number, driver’s license number or insurance policy information) to anyone until their credentials are verified.

For more information on how to detect a possible consumer scam, read our two articles: “Post-Disaster Scams: Don’t Suffer from the Same Disaster Twice,” and “Don’t Fall Victim! Look out for This Consumer Scam Post-Disaster: The Unauthorized Practice of Public Adjusting (UPPA).”

FEMA

What should a home or business owner do if the wildfire in their area becomes a declared disaster by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)? Should they still file an insurance claim with their insurance company? The answer is yes. Insurance coverage is primary, while FEMA assistance is secondary; if you are eligible for FEMA assistance FEMA will expect that you collect your insurance proceeds first.

Listen to our podcast, “Wildfires: Filing Property Insurance Claims for One of Nature’s Most Fearsome Foes”: 

For those affected by the recent wildfires in California, contact our local public adjusting firm, The Greenspan Co./Adjusters International for help with your property damage insurance claim at 888.473.3677.