A house (or office) fire is everyone’s worst nightmare. It happens quickly, but its devastation is long lasting – and no one is prepared for it. Here are some tips about what to do if disaster strikes:
Call Your Insurance Agent.
Do this immediately. Ask your agent to report the claim to your insurance company. Ask the agent for the phone number to the claims office, the name of your adjuster, your claim number, and any other information you will need in order to contact the adjuster yourself in the future. Although your agent probably won’t know this information right away, they should call you back shortly with that information. ALSO – be sure to get a copy of your insurance policy and the Declarations Page.
Read Your Insurance Policy and Declarations Page.
The Policy is a generic booklet that doesn’t have your name on it. It explains the various types of insurance coverage you have and what you must do in order to qualify for benefits. The Declarations Page has your name on it and tells the dates when coverage applies and the types and amounts of insurance coverage you have. Important things to look for are whether you have “Replacement Cost Coverage” and “Building Code Upgrades” coverage.
Keep Your Receipts and Be Organized!!
You will incur many expenses from food to lodging to replacing your personal property and home. Some of these expenses will be covered, if you have proof of them. The insurance company will require receipts for everything. The more organized you are, the quicker and easier the insurance company will be able to pay your claim.
Find a Place to Stay.
Whether you are planning to buy another home or rebuild your home, you will need to find a place to stay. Your insurance company’s “Additional Living Expense” coverage will reimburse you for the cost of a place to stay and food to eat (to an extent). If you stay with friends or family, it probably won’t reimburse you because you haven’t incurred a cost, so it is better to go ahead and use your insurance coverage and find a place to live temporarily.
“Like Kind and Quality.”
If you had Replacement Cost Coverage for your personal property or home, your insurance company will pay you for the cost of actually replacing the items you lost. If you don’t have this coverage, you will only be reimbursed for the value of what you lost at the time it was destroyed. This is usually “garage sale value.” However, you must purchase “like kind and quality” goods to reimburse what you lost. If you buy a more expensive item, the insurance company will not pay you the difference.
Find Proof of What You Lost.
The insurance company will require you to file a Notice of Claim or an Inventory listing all of the items that were destroyed, the date you acquired them, the cost of the goods when you acquired them, their value when they were destroyed, and the cost you spent to replace them. Do your best to locate receipts of your original purchases – credit card statements are a great place to start. You may also be able to use photographs to prove you had the item and its quality.
ALWAYS Tell the Truth!
The insurance company will be investigating you at the same time it is investigating your claim. Insurance fraud is a serious matter and can result in not only the denial of your claim, but also your criminal prosecution and imprisonment. People who have had legitimate fire losses have found themselves on the wrong side of the law because they lied about their contents claim and listed items they didn’t own or exaggerated their value or quality. Do NOT lie to the insurance company, even a little. Insurance companies routinely work with law enforcement and will tell on you if they think you are committing insurance fraud.
Contact a Lawyer Immediately if the Insurance Company Demands an “Examination Under Oath.”
You are required to cooperate with your insurance company, but if it demands that you submit to an Examination Under Oath, it is very likely that the insurance company is suspicious of you and your claim. If this happens, you need an attorney immediately. Do NOT submit to an Examination Under Oath without first hiring an attorney who is experienced in litigating insurance claims and representing clients at Examinations Under Oath.