A house fire can be one of the most difficult things a family faces and, unfortunately, the situation doesn’t get any easier after the fire has been extinguished.
That’s because following a house fire you won’t have time to mourn your property loss or to adjust to the lifestyle changes that the fire has forced upon you …
Instead you will immediately have to start dealing with your insurance company.
In other words, one of the most difficult experiences for a family is immediately followed up with one of the most difficult tasks a homeowner can face – collecting on an insurance policy.
Just how difficult is it?
According to AARP, half of all consumer complaints tallied by state insurance companies in 2019 were related to “diminished, delayed or denied claims.”
What you have to keep in mind is that insurance is a business that very much has its eyes on the bottom line. Yes, insurance companies have a duty to pay legitimate claims but they must also verify that the payouts they are issuing are justified and correct for the damage sustained.
That’s why, when your house fire is over, you don’t have time to be sad and reflective – you have to quickly switch over to a business mindset in order to deal with the insurance company.
Here are five rules to follow when filing a house fire insurance claim.
Rule #1 – Be prepared
There were over 357,000 house fires in 2017 and those fires caused over $7.7 billion in damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
In other words, house fires are a frequent occurrence and that means you need to be prepared in case you unfortunately experience one.
Being prepared means storing your insurance policy – along with all other information you would need to file a claim such as phone numbers, account numbers and insurance agent details – in a secure, preferably fireproof safe.
Many stores now offer fireproof safes for very affordable prices. They make a good investment.
If you have already suffered a fire and you don’t have access to your insurance policy – call your insurance agent immediately and he or she will be able to provide one to you.
When you have your policy, be sure to read it very carefully and take note of what it covers and does not cover in the event of a house fire.
Rule #2 – Act fast
When it comes to filing an insurance claim timeliness is very important. In fact, insurance companies like to be notified as soon as possible after a fire. That means your second call, after the fire department, should most likely be to your insurance agent.
Contacting the insurance company quickly benefits you as well as it gets your claims process in motion right away. The process is typically long enough as it is so delaying the start will only add more time before you get your claim settlement.
Keep in mind, many policies have claim limits. For instance, a renter’s policy may have a 48 to 72 hour claim reporting window after a fire and if you miss it you won’t be eligible to file.
For this reason it is essential that you know your policy’s time limit and that you file your claim as soon as possible after a fire.
If you or a family member were injured in the fire any delay in documenting the condition with the insurance company could also delay the benefits.
Rule #3 – Keep detailed records
One of the best things you can do during the claims process is to keep track of everything. Actually, it pays to document even before a fire. For instance, an inventory of your possessions, including receipts and photographs, can be a godsend in the aftermath of a house fire.
One way to do this would be to take a video tour of your house and then keep that video in a safe, fire-proof place.
If you or somebody else were injured in the fire you should keep all medical records.
Other things you should records for include the damage sustained in the fire as well as all correspondence with your insurance company.
Rule #4 – Don’t just take no for an answer
As we mentioned earlier, insurance is a business and that means they want to protect their profit margin as much as they can. If your claim is denied or if the insurance company values an item damaged in the fire at less than the amount you thought was fair be sure to ask for an explanation.
Insurance companies must provide a clear explanation of their decisions on a claim.
Rule #5 – Don’t be afraid to take your claim dispute “up the ladder”
If you are not satisfied with the explanation you received following rule #4, then by all means contact the adjuster and present your case with facts and documentation that support your claim.
You should also send a copy to the adjuster’s supervisor. Then add a request for a reply within a set period of time – for example, two full weeks or 10 business days.
Be prepared to follow-up with a phone call and to work your way up the chain of command. If you still aren’t able to get the resolution you believe you deserve you may need to contact a lawyer.
Look for a lawyer with experience in dealing with house fire claims. Insurers know how to litigate and you will need someone on your side who is equally knowledgeable to protect your interests.
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