Wildfire Insurance Claim Tips
This bulletin is a starting place to navigate the insurance claim process for anyone affected by the wildfires in Northern California. We are committed to helping our local communities affected by disaster by providing advice regarding the insurance claim process including the valuation of your loss, coverage issues, temporary housing, debris removal, working with your mortgage company and the reconstruction process. Our consultation is always free and we are able to offer limited no-cost services to ensure that everyone has access to legal counsel.
Contact Holmes Christian LLP at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 328-1818 for more information or for help navigating the recovery process. We look forward to rebuilding our communities together.
General Tips for the Insurance Claim Process
Keep good records of everything. Communicate with your insurance company in writing (email counts!) and send a follow-up email to your insurance point of contact summarizing the important points of telephone conversations. Keep receipts for all hotels and living expenses incurred while you are out of your home, as well as estimates and invoices for any work done. Keep notes of who you talked to, what you talked about and when.
Treat your insurance claim as a business negotiation. Your insurance company is a business, not a charity. You must be pro-active in the claim process, and you must advocate for the fullest valuation of what you lost. Be friendly and personable but don’t be a pushover.
Document your claim. Present clear requests in writing that explain what you need, when you need it, and why you are entitled to it under your insurance policy. Do not exaggerate or pad your claim.
Don’t sign legal documents without consulting an attorney. Don’t accept a low final resolution of your claim because you think the insurance company’s “money will run out.” Don’t sign legal documents until you fully understand what they mean and what consequences they have.
First Steps After a Wildfire
1. Contact your insurance carrier, tell them you have been affected by a wildfire and that you need to start the claim process.
2. Ask your insurer for cash advances for living expenses and replacing personal property.
If you lost your home in a declared disaster, California Insurance Code section 2061 requires your insurer to give you an advance of at least 4 months of your “Additional Living Expense” coverage and no less than 30% of your contents limit. Be sure to ask for it in writing. This new law took effect January 1, 2021, under AB 872, so out of state adjusters may not be familiar with it. Regardless of the location of your insurer, California law governs the claim process because the insured property is in California.
3. Find temporary housing for you and your family. It should be of similar size/bedroom count as your home. Saving money by living in a tiny apartment will not result in a greater payout in other aspects of your claim. Get appropriately sized accommodations.
4. Start your recovery notebook. Keep notes on who you talked to, the number you called, the date and time of the call, and summarize what was discussed.
Keep all receipts while you are displaced. Hotel bills, clothing purchases, pet boarding, food purchases, gasoline, ect. In short, keep receipts for everything. You can always toss them later if you don’t need them.
5. Do not clean up destroyed structures until you have approval from your county’s Environmental Management department. Doing so can preclude you from receiving government assistance. View the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department memo.
6. Take photos and video of your property before any approved cleanup or debris removal begins.
7. Work on your Home Inventory and Contents claim. There is an excellent guide to the inventory process you can access here.
8. Do not rush to sign contracts. Select licensed, bonded contractors and request bids before hiring. Do not hire a contractor who will only accept cash, or anyone offering “deductible assistance” or requesting that you pay your deductible to them. Insurance deductibles are deducted from the final payout, you do NOT send a payment in the amount of the deductible to anyone.
9. Know your assigned insurance adjuster and their contact information. If the adjuster is changed, insist on receiving the new adjuster’s information. Be prepared to work with the adjuster but don’t be a pushover. They are trying to set as low a value as possible for their company. You are trying to get the highest value for your property to put in the position you were before the disaster.
10. Do not accept a settlement offer from an adjuster “on the spot.” Do not accept a settlement offer that includes a “blanket depreciation” in which the adjuster applied the same percentage of depreciation (say, 15%) to the whole building and all the contents. This is an illegal practice that unscrupulous or inexperienced adjusters may use to “make things easy.” It deprives you of value that you are entitled to. Valuation of loss is always a long and tedious process, shortcuts only benefit the insurance company at your expense.
11. Register with FEMA. Register with the Small Business Administration if you own an affected business.
12. If you cannot reach a fair settlement with your insurer, contact an attorney.
This bulletin does not constitute legal advice. Everyone's situation is different. You should contact an attorney to discuss your situation and needs. We can be reached at email@example.com.