Here’s a frightening fact: a house fire breaks out in the US every 86 seconds. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of terrible and tragic event, then you know how overwhelming the aftermath can be. Homeowners whose property has been destroyed or damaged will look to their insurance company for financial relief, though they don’t always get the compensation they hope for.
Here are the steps you need to take after a house fire to increase your chances of getting appropriate compensation for your insurance claim.
Find Out What Kind of Insurance You Have
Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to assess the damage. They will then submit an estimate for review. Keep in mind that the amount of compensation you’re paid will depend on the type of coverage you’ve purchased. “Replacement cost” coverage is intended to cover the costs associated with repairing or replacing the home and any destroyed items. “Actual cash value” pays out the value of the home and items, taking depreciation into consideration; so, if any of your belongings had some wear and tear before the fire, you won’t receive the full value of a brand new item.
In addition to covering damage caused by fire and smoke, some homeowners insurance policies cover any damage done by firefighters while extinguishing the fire. And if you are forced to evacuate your home for a period of time, you may be covered for the “loss of use” of your residence, including reimbursement for hotel and restaurant bills.
Document Damage and Losses
Before the insurance adjuster arrives, photograph the damage and make a list of belongings that were destroyed, including the monetary value of each. The more preparation you do prior to the adjuster’s arrival, the smoother the experience will be.
Mitigate Further Damage
Insurance companies require you to take reasonable care of your property after a fire, so it’s essential that you secure the home to prevent further damage. A few ways to mitigate damage include:
- Patching up holes in walls and roof to keep out the elements
- Boarding up windows to prevent looting and vandalism
- Moving items that are at risk of withstanding more damage; for example, relocating an undamaged computer to an area away from holes and windows
Walk the Adjuster Through the Damage
Make sure the insurance adjuster gets a full view of all of the fire damage, including all destroyed items. Even after the walk-through, document all communication with the insurance company and adjuster, including notes about when the adjuster visited, any missed appointments or phone calls, and exactly what was discussed. This information may prove useful if a disagreement needs to be resolved in court. It’s also not uncommon for one adjuster to be replaced by a new one during the claims process, so to keep communication organized and streamlined, make copies of all correspondence and important documents.
Get an Outside Estimate
If you don’t agree with the adjuster’s estimate, it is entirely within your rights to hire an independent contractor to inspect your home and provide a recommendation.
Fortunately, though house fires are common, fewer civilians actually die in house fires than from other types of issues in the home. For instance, while an average of 2560 people die as a result of house fires every year in the United States, EWG Action Fund estimates that between 12,000 and 15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related diseases, and 90,000 people die from these diseases globally.
There are precautions you can take to prevent serious damage and loss of life in the event of a fire. In fact, a working smoke alarm can increase your chances of surviving a fire by 50%. To ensure your smoke detectors and alarms are functioning properly, the US Fire Administration (USFA) recommends testing the devices at least once a month and replacing batteries at least once or twice a year.
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