Our Fire Damage Attorneys Help Homeowners and Business Owners Get Justice in the Insurance Claims Process.
Fire remains a serious safety hazard. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that home structure fires cause more than $7 billion in damage each year. Even more damage is caused by fires at commercial and industrial properties. After a fire, your life can turn upside down. Putting the pieces back together is never easy. Through a fire damage claim, policyholders can seek to recover much of the costs of repairing or replacing their home or business and personal property that was damaged or destroyed.
In theory, the process of filing an insurance claim is fairly simple. However, big insurance companies often make the claims process challenging for residential and commercial property owners. If you are not interested in getting the full amount of money you actually deserve, you can stay hands-off for the entire process. However, if you want to be sure that you can get the money you are entitled to through your insurance policy coverage, you will need to play an active role. It is imperative that you have a top-rated fire damage insurance lawyer on your side.
What Causes a House Fire?
A fire within your home can happen for a wide variety of different reasons. While the majority of house fires could have been prevented had all parties—from homeowners to tenants to contractors to developers—taken proper safety precautions, the reality is that you can seemingly do everything right and still end up with a house fire. According to data from Policy Genius, here are the most common reasons for house fires, with the annual number caused by each:
- Cooking accidents (169,400)
- Heating equipment failures (45,800)
- Electrical fires (32,000)
- Intentional/arson (28,400)
- Smoking (16,300)
How to Protect Yourself from a House Fire?
To protect yourself from a house fire, make sure to install smoke alarms on every level of your home and near sleeping areas, test them regularly and replace batteries annually. Practice a fire escape plan with your family and designate a meeting place outside. Keep flammable objects away from heat sources, never leave cooking food unattended and avoid overloading electrical outlets. Store flammable liquids in a cool, dry place and keep a fire extinguisher easily accessible.
Does My Insurance Cover Fire Damage?
Yes—or at least it is for most homeowners’ insurance policies. Accidental fires are also covered by many commercial policies. Still, it is important to refer to your specific coverage to determine the extent of the coverage and if there are any exclusions or limitations. Coverage for fire damage may include damage to your home and personal property, as well as living expenses if you need to relocate temporarily.
These Spots in the Home are Most Commonly Linked to Fire Damage
As explained by Ready.Gov, fire can occur in any place where there is a potential source of ignition. That being said, some spots are “risk” areas for fires. Not surprisingly, the number one location for home fires is the kitchen. In the kitchen, fires can start from cooking equipment, such as stoves and ovens, and electrical appliances, such as toasters and coffee makers. Living rooms and bedrooms can also be a spot for fires. They may be caused by things like improperly placed candles, cigarettes, or problematic space heaters. Of course, electrical fires can occur anywhere where there is electrical wiring.
Steps to Take After Fire Damage at a Home or Business (Get the Most Out Of Your Claim)
Was your home or business damaged by a fire? It is normal to be stressed out, heartbroken, and unsure of what to do next. A proactive approach is best. Here are four key steps to take after a residential or commercial fire:
- Obtain and Review Policy and Notify Your Insurer: Insurance claims can be complicated. As a starting point, it is useful to understand the scope and nature of your fire damage coverage. Get a copy of your policy. If you cannot locate it, you should reach out directly to the insurer. Your policy should provide details on the things that you need to do to bring a claim. During this point in the process, make sure that your insurer is notified of the fire.
- Document Everything: Documenting every piece of personal property that was damaged or destroyed is essential, but you will need to go beyond the basics to ensure you are getting fair replacement values for your line items. If you had an antique couch that was destroyed, it will not help to just list “couch” in your claim because the adjuster will find a low-cost couch and include that in the settlement total. The more specific you are about each damaged or destroyed item, the more accurate the values will be in the adjuster’s report, and the more accurate your final settlement amount will be. Be sure to include any services you paid for, as well.
- Gather Evidence For Negotiations: Documenting everything is the first step, but you will still note a significant gap between your calculations and the settlement offer the insurance company first makes. If you accept this initial offer, you may be required to waive your right to any additional legal action and or recovery relating to this claim, meaning that even if additional costs or damages arise in the future, you will have to foot the bill on your own. To avoid this unfortunate situation, you will need to negotiate to obtain the highest amount taking all of your damages into consideration. You will also need to provide ample supporting evidence throughout your negotiations.
- Hire a Fire Damage Attorney: The best way to get a fair fire damage payment for your settlement is to hire an experienced insurance litigation attorney who can handle the claim on your behalf. As you can imagine, understanding the ins and outs of an insurance claim requires years of experience or extensive research as you go through the claim, neither of which is often realistic for someone who has recently experienced a fire and is filing a claim for their damages. While your attorney is fighting for a settlement that actually covers your losses, you will be able to focus on the rest of your life and move forward from the fire.
Difference Between Partial and Total Loss (Fire Damage)
A partial loss from fire damage refers to a situation where only a portion of a property or building has been damaged and is repairable. In contrast, a total loss from fire damage means that the property or building is beyond repair and must be rebuilt or replaced. The extent of the damage and the cost to repair or replace the property determine whether a loss is considered partial or total.
Valuing the Loss Caused By Fire Damage
Valuing the loss caused by fire damage involves determining the cost to repair or replace the damaged property. This can include the cost of rebuilding the structure, replacing damaged personal property, and covering additional living expenses if necessary. Insurance companies use a variety of methods to value the loss, including cost estimates from contractors, depreciation schedules for personal property, and market value assessments for real property. The value of the loss ultimately depends on the extent of the damage, the cost of materials and labor, and other factors. Do not agree to settle your claim for less. Consult with a top home damage insurance lawyer.
Why Was My Fire Insurance Claim Denied (Common Dispute)?
Dealing with a partial or total loss caused by fire damage is difficult enough. It is even more challenging if your fire damage claim is denied by the insurance company. There are several reasons why a residential or commercial fire insurance claim may be denied, including:
- Incomplete Documentation: An insurer may deny (or delay) a fire damage claim on the grounds that the documentation is not adequate to process the claim.
- Delayed Reporting: Insurance policies typically require policyholders to report the loss as soon as possible. If the policyholder delays reporting the loss, the insurance company may deny the claim. Be proactive. Do not wait to file a claim.
- Exclusions in the Policy: Some insurance policies may have exclusions for certain types of damage, such as those caused by intentional acts. If the fire falls under one of these exclusions, the claim may be denied.
- Exceeding Policy Limits: If the cost of the damage exceeds the policy limits, the insurance company may deny coverage for the additional amount.
- Bad Faith: An insurer may deny a fire damage claim even without valid grounds. Policyholders can file a lawsuit against an insurance company that denies a fire damage claim in bad faith. A bad-faith insurance attorney can help.
What Tactics and Strategies do Insurers Use to Reject Claims
Unfortunately, the insurance companies are not on the side of policyholders. Whether it is a residential fire damage claim or a commercial fire damage claim, they want to protect their own profits. This means settling claims for less or even denying coverage outright. There are several strategies that insurers may use to reject or undervalue fire damage claims:
- Pre-Existing Damage: Insurance companies may claim that the damage was pre-existing and not caused by the fire, making it ineligible for coverage.
- Policy Exclusions: Insurance policies typically have exclusions for certain types of losses or damage, such as acts of terrorism or intentional acts. Insurance companies may argue that the fire was caused by an excluded event and, therefore, not covered.
- Improper Maintenance: Insurers may claim that the policyholder failed to properly maintain the property and that this contributed to the fire and the resulting damage.
- Bad Faith Settlement Practices: An insurer may engage in a bad faith settlement practice when handling a fire damage claim. They can be held accountable for doing so under Florida’s Unfair Insurance Trade Practices Act.
How Much are Settlements in Fire Damage Lawsuits?
It depends on many different factors, including the scope of your coverage, the cause of the fire, and the amount of property damage. The most important thing about an insurance claim is that it should pay out what you actually need and deserve. You pay into your policy diligently, and you have every right to expect that the insurance company will cover you when you need it most. Unfortunately, insurance companies focus mostly on saving as much money as possible, not paying victims the entire amount that they are owed, and your claim will likely be no different. To get the money you are entitled to, you will need assistance from a legal professional, and your first step should be having the right legal representation looking out for your best interests.
How Can BK Law Firm Help With a Fire Damage Insurance Claim?
Fire damage claims are complicated. Many people do not even think about the option of hiring an attorney for their fire damage claim, but this can be one of the best ways to get a full and fair maximum settlement. The attorneys at Bernheim Kelley Battista & Bliss, LLC, have years of experience representing a range of insurance claims and will be happy to help you through this difficult process so you can get your life back on track as soon as possible. Our fire damage claims attorneys have the professional skills and legal expertise to represent both residential and commercial property owners. If you suffered losses due to fire damage, we are here to help. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation initial consultation. We are well-positioned to handle fire damage insurance claims throughout the country.