What To Do If You Have To Make A Fire Claim Under Your Property Insurance Policy

Your property insurance on your home covers many types of losses. One such loss is fire damage or destruction. That can be a nightmare scenario, followed by the hassle of dealing with your insurer, perhaps while temporarily or permanent displaced from the home. Here are some tips on handling what can often be a bewildering time for many people. There are many other things that should be done and tips that should be followed, but these are some of the major things that we've encountered in our insurance dispute cases.

If you had to evacuate the home, particularly as the fire was raging, you may have left behind standard necessities such as toiletries or clothes. Your insurance policy will cover some or all of the cost to replace such items, but that won't do you much good in the immediate term. Therefore, you should ask your insurer for an advance against the claim you'll eventually file; in essence, you're essentially borrowing against your future insurance payout. 

Property insurance policies always require that homeowners minimize ("mitigate") additional damage to the property after the event that gives rise to the claim. That's because damage can continue to occur to the structure even after an event, like a fire or tornado, is over. A fire can leave a house damaged and exposed to the elements and vandals. If you don't take steps to secure the house from further damage from such things, your insurance company may not cover that additional damage on the grounds that you've failed to mitigate the damages. Quite often, the insurer will later reimburse the costs of undertaking such mitigation steps.  

Make sure to promptly file your property damage claim. The longer it takes to file the claim, the longer it'll take to get paid under it, and that'll be your fault, not the insurer's. Likewise, be sure to promptly, accurately, and completely submit any proof of loss claim forms the insurer demands. Beyond the obvious delays that the homeowner causes by not promptly making a claim and completing paperwork, my experience has been that insurers can also view such conduct as suspicious, which leads to my next tip.

Be very careful if your insurer starts suggesting that the fire is suspicious and that it's investigating the cause and origin of the fire. Insurers don't cover intentionally set, as opposed to accidental, fires. An insurer that's suspicious about a fire will usually hire a fire expert to analyze the fire scene and try to determine the cause and origin of the fire. If that comes up, you'll have to think carefully about whether to hire your own fire expert. Insureds sometimes have to make that decision before they know the conclusions of the insurer's fire expert because the fire inspection may alter or destroy important aspects of the scene, thus making it difficult or impossible for your own expert to conduct a similar analysis if necessary in the face of the insurer's conclusion that the fire was the result of arson. For that reason, there are sometimes two fire experts, one for the insurer and one for the insured, simultaneously inspecting the scene so that both have an opportunity for a full and complete inspection before any destruction or modification of the fire scene.   

Finally, don't let your insurance company push you around. You have a policy contract with the insurer and you pay the premiums, so your insurer owes you many duties and obligations. The insurer will usually try to close the fire claim as quickly as it can before you discover additional losses caused by the fire. Therefore, take your time to ensure and be confident that you've included everything in the claim that needs to be included before accepting final payment from the insured. Your insurer has no authority to "close" its claims file and force you to end your claim as long as no policy time limits for the claim have expired.

Harley Erbe