Fire Damage FAQ

FAQs About Fire Claims — What You Need to Know

Some man-made or natural disasters, like wildfires, can cause severe damage or destruction to homes. Sadly, when they do, many families lose their places of shelter, personal belongings, sentimental items, and some of the basic necessities for living. When these types of emergencies occur, individuals may have the option to recover compensation for losses by filing property damage insurance claims. Because these situations can be highly complex, many people are left with numerous questions and should not hesitate to speak with an attorney before engaging with their insurance companies or with the party who caused a fire (e.g., utilities, private landowners, contractors, government).

To help, our team at Schimmel & Parks, APLC has answers to some frequently asked questions that have come up in the numerous wildfire and disaster cases that we have handled in the past on behalf of clients:

1. What Documents Should Be Readily Available When Facing A Fire Claim?

There are many documents you should have readily available when facing a fire claim. Useful documents, which you should store photos of on your smart phone or electronically, include the following:

  • Any insurance policies (homeowners, umbrella, auto, business, earthquake), including declarations pages, endorsements and any related forms
  • Photographs of the contents of your home
  • Financial documents (mortgage, banking, investments, stocks)
  • A "grab and run" plan for your family photos, heirlooms, jewelry and previous items

2. What Are Your Potential Losses?

After a large fire occurs, homeowners may face many different types of damages, including the following:

  • Partial or total damage to the residential structure, hardscape or landscape
  • Ash or soot damage: This type of damage can significantly affect the property, especially when ash or soot enters the HVAC system, pool system, plumbing or other mechanical systems.
  • Damages caused by fire retardant or smoke
  • Relocation expenses: Insurance policies may provide temporary living expenses to place a family in a hotel and to cover food and other incidental expenses.

3. Should A Person Contact The Insurance Company Right Away?

Yes. Once you and your family are safe, immediately contact your insurer to report your claim. Once you report your claim, an insurance company might work to minimize the value or extent of your losses. Documenting your losses is important. Working with an attorney can help you to ensure that your rights are protected and that your claim will be maximized under the policy.

4. What Are The Deadlines For These Types Of Claims?

Deadlines can be very short. Depending on the type of loss, some insurance policies can set deadlines to make claims that are as short as 30 days or less. For instance, many insurers put a 45-day deadline from the date of loss for submitting a claim for loss caused by ash. Determining the number and type of losses can have an impact on your deadlines and your bottom line on what you are owed.

5. What Is A Proof Of Loss Statement?

When you file a fire claim with your insurer, telling the insurer you have a claim may not be enough to receive your policy benefits. Commonly, insurers will require their insureds to fill out and file a "Proof of Loss" form. To achieve the best results possible, it is important to document losses thoroughly. A person can do so by photographing different areas of the home, various possessions, and structures. Insurers have the right to require their insureds to cooperate and submit to a recorded Examination Under Oath ("EUO") when a claim is made. If this is demanded, you should consider seeking legal advice before submitting to the EUO.

6. Is Insurance The Only Source Of Potential Recovery For A Fire Loss?

Insurance will not be the only source of recovery when a fire loss is caused by a negligent third party. The risks and dangers of wildfires are known throughout Southern California. Unfortunately, some of the worst fire disasters in the state have been due to the negligence of public utilities or contractors. When you learn that your fire loss is potentially due to the negligence of a third party, there are deadlines for pursue a third-party liability claim. Because the interplay between insurance claims and third-party liability claims is complex, seek experienced legal counsel.

Schimmel & Parks, APLC, is an experienced Southern California plaintiff's litigation firm representing homeowners and other consumers who have suffered from catastrophic property losses and insurance bad faith.