Tips for Filing Fire Insurance Claims

Had fire damage to your house? Here is a Q&A to help you deal with insurance.

February 18, 2009, 6:12 PM

Oct. 23, 2007 — -- As wildfires continue to rage throughout Southern California, insurance companies are mobilizing teams to help fire victims deal with claims and start rebuilding their homes. Travelers is just one company sending representatives to shelters in the San Diego area to help locals start filing claims.

Even if you don't have all the information or paperwork, insurance experts are advising Californians to file a claim now to get the process started. Following is a tip sheet from the Insurance Information Institute, an industry trade group, and Travelers on what you need to know to if your house is damaged by fire.

If my house burns down, will my insurance company pay to have it rebuilt?

The typical homeowner's policy covers damage due to wind, fire and lightning. So if your home has been completely destroyed by a fire or if the roof has been burned, your insurance company will pay to have your home rebuilt or to have the roof replaced. It will also pay if flames and smoke have damaged any other part of your home.

What about the contents of my house?

In addition to paying for damage to the dwelling, homeowners' policies cover other structures on the premises, such as a garage or tool shed, as well as damage to your furniture, clothes, appliances and other personal possessions up to the limits of your policy.

What information is needed to report a claim?

Each claim is different, but information your insurance company will likely need include:

Who will pay for temporary housing?

Your insurance company might cover your housing expenses, depending on your plan. These "additional living expense coverage" or "loss of use coverage" options will pay for similar housing while repairs are being made to your home or if you permanently relocate. Typically, you need to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred. Also keep in mind that payments do no cover lost wages or earnings.

Should I file a police report?

Yes. In many cases, a police report is required when reporting a claim.

What about receipts?

The more documentation you have, the better. Assuming such documents survived the fire, receipts, owner's manuals, warranty cards, appraisals, photographs or the original boxes that the items came in will all help.

What other documents should I compile?

Keep an accurate record of all temporary repair expenses such as bills or material receipts so that you can add the amount to your claim. Also, keep an accurate record of any and all expenses incurred to be considered for possible reimbursement. Do not make any permanent repairs until the insurance adjuster has had a chance to review the damage.

What is a deductible?

A deductible is the amount you agree to pay as your part of the loss. The insurance company will pay for the amount over the deductible if it is a covered loss. For example, if the covered claim is $2,000 and your deductible is $500, you pay $500 and your insurance company pays the $1,500 balance.

How do I figure out what I've lost?

Make a written list of what was damaged. To be as accurate as possible, include the manufacturer, brand name and the place and date of purchase. A good way to start this process is to divide your list into broad categories, such as location: living room, master bedroom, kitchen, etc. If available, photographs, videotapes or personal property inventories are valuable resources during the itemization process.

Much of my furniture and possessions were badly damaged -- can I get rid of them if I have a home inventory?

A homeowner should not throw things away until an insurance company representative has been able to assess the damage and make a claim report.

My home was vandalized after the fire and my new television was stolen. Am I covered?

Homeowners' insurance policies cover theft and vandalism, so any losses due to looting in the wake of the fire should be covered.

Should I make temporary repairs to my house?

It is important to take immediate steps to prevent further damage to your home. Some policies may cover such repairs, others might not. Some policies will let you hire a contractor to do the work. Whether hiring somebody or doing it yourself, document all your expenses.

Does my insurance pay for the loss of any trees, shrubs or other plants I lost in the fire?

The typical homeowner's policy covers trees, shrubs, plants or lawns on the residence for loss caused by fire. Usually insurers will pay up to 5 percent of the limit of liability that applies to the dwelling for all trees, shrubs, plants or lawns. No more than $500 will be paid for any one tree, shrub or plant. Insurance, however, does not cover property grown for business purposes.

If my car is destroyed or damaged from the fire, is it covered?

If you have comprehensive insurance, your vehicle will be covered for damage or destruction.

If I have questions about my homeowner's policy, where can I get help?

You can call your insurance agent, broker or company representative or the National Insurance Consumer Helpline: Call 1-800-942-4242 and ask for the free brochure, How to File an Insurance Claim.

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