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Jul 29

Wildfire Insurance: What consumers need to know

By Brian S. Kabateck

As firefighters gain the upper hand on the massive Sand fire in the Santa Clarita Valley, thousands of weary homeowners recently evacuated, are now returning home. The wildfire charred more than 38-thousand acres and destroyed at least 18 homes. Unfortunately, this is one of several California communities devastated this year by fire fueled by drought conditions. We’ll likely see more destructive wildfires before the season is over.

It’s crucial that homeowners understand their insurance policies and ensure they have enough coverage in the event of extensive property damage. In general, wildfires are a “covered peril” in most homeowners’ insurance policies. Personal belongings are covered depending on the amount set in the policy, which is typically between 50 and 75 percent of the amount of coverage you have on your home. It’s a good idea to adjust that coverage amount as you accumulate more personal possessions. Also make sure you have enough insurance to cover any improvements you’ve made to your property. Many homeowners do not have enough insurance to rebuild their home because although construction costs have increased substantially over the last two decades, most homeowners’ coverage has not. Your policy should also cover temporary housing while a homeowner is displaced until the house is repaired or rebuilt.

However, there are many cases when Insurers will look for ways to skimp on reimbursements by denying claims and leaving homeowners with the bill. If your home is damaged by smoke and ash you’ll want to make sure your property and possessions get properly inspected, tested and documented. Take pictures of all visible damage and if you’re suffering from any health problems go to your doctor.

You’ll want to move as quickly as possible to uncover and document the damage because many policies require early notice of a claim. Take photos and video, and collect bills and receipts. Don’t throw away any damaged belongings until an insurance adjuster has come to examine and record the evidence. Make a list of all the items that were damaged which will help process your claim faster.

Find professionals who can give you an accurate assessment and are independent from the insurance company. If your insurer isn’t willing to foot the bill for an independent expert, consider hiring your own.

When a homeowner’s claim is turned down or shortchanged by an insurer, it triggers a range of emotions outlined in the Kubler-Ross Model that is similar to the five stages of death and dying. Personal loss is traumatic and can run the gamut of emotions beginning with denial, then anger, leading to bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. But you don’t have to go through this process alone and there’s legal recourse if you think your insurer is engaging in insurance bad faith.

If you or a loved one has experienced wildfire damage, please contact KBK for a free case evaluation at 213-217-5000 or fill out the free case evaluation form below.