There is no doubt that a fire at your home is a devastating event. The cost of cleanup and repairs adds up quickly. Property loss due to residential fires is around $7.3 billion each year, reports the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Just like heat and smoke are often more damaging to your lungs than the flames, homes often suffer damage even in areas where the flames never reached. Soot and smoke — not to mention water damage — can affect every room in the house.
The good news is that your homeowner’s insurance should cover the cost of repairs after a fire. Smoke damage claims, however, are often especially difficult to navigate. Getting a fair settlement to cover all of your losses and expenses in this type of claim often requires the help of a knowledgeable fire & smoke damage insurance claims lawyer in Fort Lauderdale. If your insurer refuses to offer a fair settlement or denies your claim after a fire, Coffey Trial Law can help.
Call us today at 954-541-3194 to learn more.
What do I need to do immediately after a fire?
Once you have ensured your safety and checked that your property is safe to enter, you will need to start assessing the damage. Take a full inventory of damaged items and take photos (of the damaged items, the walls, etc.). Do not begin cleaning until after your insurance company has appraised the property. You should also get your own third-party appraisal; this will help you contest the insurer’s offer if it is too low.
Note: If you cannot stay in your home, let the police know to be on the lookout for looters and squatters. The insurance company may not cover damage from a break-in after the fact.
What do I need to know about filing an insurance claim?
Your insurance company needs to be one of the first calls you make after a fire, but make sure you prepare for the call and for a low settlement. Never accept a settlement offer until you fully understand what it will take to recover from this disaster.
Your insurance company should offer you guidance on how to conduct an inventory of the damage, and a timeline for beginning restoration. It may also give you a list of recommended local fire restoration companies who specialize in cleaning up fire, smoke and water damage.
It is understandable to want to begin cleaning right away, but many of these tasks require professional expertise. Cleaning can also jeopardize your insurance claim if you have not taken inventory of the damage first, as well. A proper inventory includes:
- Not throwing anything away until documented
- Taking photographs of every piece of damaged property
- Making a list of all damaged items and areas needing repair
- Taking comprehensive video of the scene, if possible
From the first night, collect and file any receipts you have for out-of-pocket expenses related to the fire. You can recoup many of these expenses through your insurance claim, and/or they may be necessary to prove your losses when you file your income taxes next year.
Sometimes, the most cost-effective option — or the only option to ensure the space fully recovers — is to strip everything down to the studs and rebuild. If the restoration company recommends this but your insurance company balks, it may be time to call for legal help. A qualified lawyer can enlist trusted construction professionals and other experts to prove the need for this type of extensive restoration.
What if the insurer denies my claim, or refuses to offer a fair settlement?
Most people feel especially vulnerable after a fire, and you better believe that many insurance companies try to use this to their advantage. At a time when you are probably already stressed over money and struggling emotionally, you do not need an insurance company trying to underpay or deny your claim. However, this occurs all too often.
You should know that your insurer is likely to offer you a low settlement out of the gate. You do not have to accept this offer. Instead, you can provide evidence to show the full range of damage to your property, estimates of restoration work, and replacement costs provided by trusted construction companies. (Do not trust the insurance company’s estimate.)
In many cases, it is easier to get a payout for a fire that has totally destroyed a home than it is for smoke damage. Smoke and water damage can do enough damage to call for completely gutting the affected rooms and replacing all furniture.
Insurance companies often try to deny this truth, however. It is not unusual for insurance companies to attempt to only pay for surface cleaning, or to underestimate the actual cost of repair and replacement. For this reason, you may want to discuss the value of your claim with a Fort Lauderdale attorney, and have him/her review any settlement offers before you agree.
How can an attorney help me get the compensation I need to cover my losses?
A claim denial or extremely low settlement offer is not the end of the fight for compensation. Do not panic if your insurance company attempts either of these tactics. Instead, consider enlisting the help of a lawyer well-versed in Florida fire and smoke damage claims.
Having the backing of an attorney when negotiating an insurance claim has a number of benefits. A legal professional can help you:
- Calculate the value of your property and possessions
- Ensure you are fully aware of any potential repair and replacement costs
- Collect the evidence necessary to prove these expenses to the insurer
- Handle all negotiations while you focus on getting your life back to normal. Our team knows how to defend you against the tricks many insurance companies use to devalue or deny claims.
Your lawyer can also connect you with trusted restoration professionals, construction companies, and other experts who will restore your home to its pre-fire condition.
Coffey Trial Law works with Fort Lauderdale residents, helping them recover from a house fire as quickly as possible. Call us today at 954-541-3194 to learn more about your legal options for maximizing your South Florida insurance claim.