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Fighting Fire: Extinguishing Bad Faith Insurance

There are two types of fire that people should be aware of. There’s good fire like a candle on your birthday cake or bad fire like a wildfire or house fire; unfortunately Florida sees both. During extensive periods of heat and drought wildfires often start and may spread from home to home causing significant property damage. Fires may also occur due to arson or an accident. Grease fires, cooking accidents, candles, inadequate wiring, and careless smoking are just a few of the many reasons house fires begin.

Recent headlines in the Tampa Bay Times have included “Fire Damages South Tampa Law Office” and “Pinellas Technical Education Center Evacuated after Fire Erupts on Roof.” As recent fires become an increasingly prevalent threat, insurance companies constantly try to cut corners in an attempt to save money. Losing your home and personal belongings in a fire is devastating enough; the last thing you want to deal with is your insurance company giving you a hard time regarding your claim.

Why Fire Insurance Claims may be denied:

The aftermath of a fire can be a stressful experience, especially when a valid insurance claim is denied. After paying expensive insurance premiums, homeowners expect valid claims to be fulfilled; however in some cases this expectation has proven to be too high. There are many cases in which insurance companies deny valid claims without an explanation, leaving homeowners frustrated and desperate.

As for-profit entities, insurance companies often avoid payouts to customers to protect their fiscal bottom line; however they must have a justifiable reason for denying a claim. Many states, Florida included, have adopted the Unfair Claims Settlement Act (UCSA) which aims to protect policy holders from wrongful or deceitful actions by their insurers. Some common forms of unfair claims handling include:

  • Undervaluing damaged property
  • Allegations of arson
  • Failure to investigate in a timely manner
  • Denial of a total loss claim despite supporting evidence
  • Threats to the insured in an attempt to lower the payout
  • A clear violation of the terms of the insurance policy

Making a Fire Claim:

In the event of a fire you want to be prepared to deal with your insurance company as efficiently as possible. Following the following advice will help avoid any discrepancies an insurance company may have regarding your claim.

  • Make a list of everything you’ve lost and don’t throw anything away: You want to be able to remember and include everything you’ve lost by the time you file your insurance claim. Starting a list as early as possible will help ensure you’ve record everything. Additionally, make sure you don’t throw anything away. Insurance adjusters will want to see items that are completely ruined, either by smoke or fire damage, and include them in the coverage. It’s easier to hold that you really lost the items when the adjuster physically sees them. Additionally, think about taking photos or videotaping the damage right after it occurs.
  • File your claim right away and pressure the insurance company to act ASAP: prompt action is important, especially if there are multiple homeowners affected (for example, in the event of a wildfire). If you don’t act immediately you could fall to the bottom of the list of policy holders who also have fire insurance claims, therefore extending the time it takes for an adjuster to reach you. You will be required to submit a proof of loss claim including the following information:
    • Date of loss
    • Type of loss or damage
    • Location of the damage
    • Any related injuries
    • Others involved
    • Condition of the home
    • Description of the damaged contents
    • Whether or not temporary repairs are necessary
    • A police report
  • Keep track of all Communication: be sure to keep track of all the correspondence between you and your insurance provider as well as all the documents and post office receipts of mailing. Take notes, including date and time of every phone conversation and face to face meeting. Keep original documents of everything: notes, emails, invoices, bills, permits, contacts for repairs, and insurance forms. If insurance wants proof of any documents you’ll be prepared.
  • Secure your property to mitigate damages: When only a portion of your home is affected be sure to take proactive measures to prevent further damage. Think about:
    • covering holes in the walls and roof to protect your home from the elements
    • boarding up the property or building a fence to prevent looters
    • smoldering all embers (making sure the fire is completely out)
    • moving property that is at risk of further damage (example: moving the unharmed TV out from underneath a hole in the ceiling)
  • Keep track of your living expenses while displaced from your damaged home
  • Keep paying your insurance premiums
  • It’s not over until you say so: Insurance companies are quick to close fire insurance claims, however, the longer your claim is open, the greater the chance for you to discover something you previously overlooked. Give yourself time and protect yourself by waiting a few months before consenting to closing your claim; you have the power to do this.
  • Don’t worry about your insurance coverage: Many people fear that filing fire insurance claims will cause their homeowners’ insurance company to do the same as automobile insurance (either raise the premium or drop them completely), but this is not the case. As long as you file legitimate claims, are not a habitual claimant, and there is no evidence of fraud on your part, your premium will not increase and you will not lose your coverage.

What You May be Able to Recover:

After a fire the extent of damage may include structural damage, water damage, smoke damage, damage to the building’s plumbing or electrical systems, and damages to personal property within the structure. In the event of a fire you may be able to recover:

  • Replacement value of your home and personal property
  • Loss of use of the real and personal property due to fire
  • Cost of restoring and reforesting your land due to fire
  • Cost of fire related medical care

Furthermore, if you have lost pets, valuable heirlooms and keepsakes to your fire, you may be entitled compensation for emotional damages.

Review your policy with an experienced attorney to help maximize your benefits. Insurance companies and their representatives don’t always place protecting the rights and interests of their policy holders at the top of their priority list; sometimes they’re more worried about protecting their own rights and interests as well as their bottom line.

After a fire has ravages your home or business, there can be many types of damages; be sure to review your policy with an experienced attorney in order to help maximize your benefits. Remember that insurance companies and their representatives don’t always place protecting the rights and interests of their policy holders at the top of their priority list; sometimes they’re more worried about protecting their own rights and interests as well as their bottom line. If your fire claim has been denied, delayed, or disputed in bad faith by your insurance company, it is important to hire an experienced insurance lawyer. Don’t hesitate to call the Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for your free consultation today. 727-451-6900