Fire damage can be sudden and devastating. It is one of the core perils covered by virtually all property insurance policies. After paying costly insurance premiums, property owners have a right to expect their insurance company to honor their end of the bargain and pay the claim. Unfortunately, insurance companies have substantial experience with fire claims as a result and a track record of finding ways to deny valid fire damage claims or pay less the full amount of compensation due.
At Wright Commercial Litigation, our insurance coverage attorney understands that dealing with the aftermath of a fire can be a stressful experience. The firm is committed to helping Texas home and business owners recover the insurance compensation to which they are entitled. Contact the firm today to schedule an initial consultation and learn more about your legal rights.
Fire Damage Is Often Worse Than It Appears
When a fire occurs, there is not only burned and charred property but typically also water and smoke damage. Fire departments use high-powered hoses that can cause electrical items to be damaged also in trying to contain the spread. Smoke damage can be significant even if the fire was small. Soot can accumulate, causing more damage down the road if not properly remedied. Fires can accordingly cause severe damage to any of the following (and more):
- Structural damage
- Personal property
- Files and paperwork
- Pet care items
- Outdoor foliage
- Outdoor structures, such as sheds, fencing, and gazebos
- Vehicles parked in a garage or nearby
Understanding Fire and Smoke Damage Insurance Coverage
Filing an insurance claim for smoke and fire damage is the main way in which individuals and businesses obtain compensation. Insurance companies must pay compensation to insured individuals and businesses for fire-related losses not caused by the owner’s own arson. Whether you are a business property owner or a homeowner seeking coverage due to fire damage, the specific amounts and coverage will be determined by your policy.
Your cash settlement will be limited by the terms and conditions listed within your policy. For example, your policy may or may not include fire damage to “outbuildings.” Every policy will also impose upper limits (and lower limits through a deductible) on how much damage it will cover. Most property insurance policies also pay for alternative living arrangements when your family needs to stay in a hotel or short-term housing, as well as relocation or other costs for a home or business during repairs.
After submitting a claim, insurance companies must act within a specific period. In Texas, an insurance company must notify the claimant of an acceptance or rejection of a claim within 15 days of receiving all statements, items, and forms required to investigate the claim (although the time can be extended in several ways and is longer when arson is legitimately suspected). When a claim is denied, the insurance company must provide you with a written explanation.
What to Do After a Fire
Documenting the full extent of fire damage is crucial support for an insurance claim. After even a small fire, it may seem convenient to simply pull out and throw away property due to a smoky smell. Before doing that, you should notify the insurance carrier and be sure to document all losses. Take photographs of any property that has been destroyed and all that which is damaged, even a little. It is important to take photos from different angles and lighting, potentially videos as well, and wait for an insurance adjuster to come inspect if requested by your insurance company.
If the damage is so extensive you can no longer live in your home and need to stay at a hotel or elsewhere, try to get approval from your insurance company first and make sure to get receipts for everything to document those expenses. That includes hotel or rental invoices, food and restaurant bills, and any other expenses related to relocating or temporary living arrangements.
Finally, it is important not to accept an insurance offer without first taking time to consider discussing your case with a fire damage attorney. Insurance companies are notorious for making offers that are too low, knowing that property owners are anxious about paying their bills and apt to accept the first chance to receive money. Doing so could potentially waive your rights to receive further compensation. An attorney can often help you negotiate a better deal.
Is Your Insurance Company Unfairly Denying Your Claim?
Some insurance companies deny claims even when the policy states they must pay fire damage. In other cases, the insurance company will underpay knowing that it is more difficult for an owner to know the true value of the loss. That can create an unnecessary and unjust financial burden on those who have filed legitimate claims and have a right to full compensation. Insurance companies can deny a fire damage claim when there is a lack of evidence of loss, the fire was intentionally started by the owner, when the loss does not exceed the deductible, or a claim is made past the deadlines.
However, not all insurance denials are made in good faith. If you suspect your insurance company has denied or underpaid a claim wrongfully, contacting an attorney is important so they can review your claim and your policy to see if the insurance company has acted improperly or in bad faith. You have a right at all times to dispute the denial of a claim. Likewise, if your insurer is refusing to make a decision on your claim, or delaying payment of a valid claim, then an attorney can help you hold the insurer accountable with increased statutory remedies.
Other ways that insurance companies mishandle fire damage claims include:
- Failing to explain coverage denial
- Delaying investigation
- Failing to undertake a reasonable investigation
- Undervaluing the property damage
- Ignoring evidence of the cause or property damage
- Making false allegations of fraud or arson
- Providing misleading or false statements about the insurance policy’s coverages
- Allowing poorly trained adjusters to handle a claim
How Can an Insurance Dispute Attorney Help Me?
Wright Commercial Litigation reviews the reasons your insurance company is denying a claim or paying less than you think it is worth and has the ability to quickly perform an independent investigation and assessment by experts not beholden to the insurance company. That includes highly experienced fire investigators who can determine the cause and origin of any fire as well as remediation and property specialists to uncover the full extent of damage and make an accurate estimate of the true value of the fire damage claim. This information is then analyzed closely and often distilled into a package that can be presented to the insurance company to demonstrate where they are wrong or acting in bad faith.
The firm is very familiar with the tactics used by insurance companies to deny claims or refuse to pay a fair settlement, and takes pride in holding them to account when they fail to act in good faith.
Contact an Insurance Attorney to Discuss Your Case
If you have suffered fire damage to your business, commercial, or residential property and are having difficulty obtaining full payment from your insurance carrier, you can benefit from having an experienced insurance disputes attorney on your side.
Contact Wright Commercial Litigation today to schedule an initial consultation and learn more about your rights if you are the victim of bad faith insurance practices for a fire or smoke damage claim.