Unseen Damage To Your Home Caused By Wildfires
Smoke and ash damage is very difficult to see unless you know where to look and how to look. Also, partial property losses caused by wildfire smoke and ash are much more difficult for homeowners to prove and settle on their own. In partial loss cases, most of the damage is not readily visible and trying to prove it against a seasoned insurance adjuster can end up costing you big dollars in the end.
Most of the residential property damage from wildfires is caused by resulting smoke, soot and ash. Even if your home suffers no actual fire damage – residual smoke, soot and ash can still cause tens-of-thousands of dollars in property damage.
Ash contains acids and other dangerous chemicals that can seriously damage a home and everything in it. Ash tends to collect and travel down roof vents, between attic spaces, insulation and even between interior walls. It can also contaminate your furniture and carpet.
Smoke and ash is also a health hazard to adults and children. It can cause skin rashes, and if inhaled can cause damage to the nose and throat. Children are especially vulnerable to these types of smoke related health risks.
In 2008 alone, according to the National Fire Data Center, there were over 5000 separate incidents of wildfires across the United States causing over $13 billion dollars in property damage nationwide. The 2009 Station Fires in California have destroyed nearly 200,000 acres, caused billions in property damage and is a harsh reminder of the destructive power of rapidly moving wildfires.
If you are a homeowner within a twenty-five mile radius of a wildfire, you might be entitled to thousands of dollars from your insurance company.
Smoke, Soot & Ash Damage – Exterior and Interior Damage
Smoke residue and ash can damage both the exterior and interior of your home. Toxic smoke, soot, and ash can land on your roof, exterior walls, patio, and get into the into heating and air conditioning systems, crevices, attic, crawl spaces and can infiltrate interior drapes, linens and carpets.
Landscaping can be damaged from noxious chemicals dropped by aerial fire fighters. Swimming pools along with its related pumps and filter system may have been damaged by the ash and soot. Carpets can absorb the ash and smoke odor and even reach the under padding requiring cleaning or replacement. If the homeowner has marble, granite and tile, it too may have been discolored and damaged from the smoke and ash toxins.
Insurance Adjusters Interests Are Not The Same As The Homeowners Interests
Most homeowners have very limited knowledge of what they are entitled to recover under their insurance policy. Homeowners who leave the claim responsibility to the insurance adjusters can often end-up receiving only a fraction of what they should receive for their loss.
Insurance companies have routinely made partial loss claims from smoke and ash damage, a low priority. That is because insurance adjusters are notorious for not seeing less-visible damage and not smelling the smoke fumes. When they can, insurance adjusters prefer to use cosmetic repairs rather then having to pay the replacement value.
Insurance adjusters, while they can be pleasant and friendly, first and foremost, represent the insurance companies interests – not the homeowners. Insurance adjusters are trained to “minimize” the value of property claims. The more insurance companies can save on paying out losses on claims, the more profit they earn for their shareholders.
The difference between a low estimate of damage and a high one is often many thousands of dollars. This is the primary reason why homeowners choose to retain property lawyers to represent them in the negotiation and preparation of their fire damage claims – especially when it involves smoke, soot and ash.
Homeowners who have suffered property damage want, and are legally entitled to receive, the full value of their property loss. Under law, the homeowner is entitled to have their real property restored to the condition it was in just prior to the loss. Keep in mind that insurance companies are also corporations and as such, their loyalty rests with their shareholders first and foremost.
Sometimes called the “prove-it or lose-it” clause, when the insured suffers a property loss, under the terms of the policy, the burden of proving the dollar value of the loss is the homeowner’s responsibility. Consequently, homeowners are often left at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with a trained insurance adjuster. The average homeowner has little if any experience in preparing fire claims. This gives the insurance company a profound advantage over the homeowner in the negotiation and settlement process.
Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t always play fair. When it comes to legal issues such as scope of coverage disputes, insurance companies have scores of attorneys on their side – so its only fair that the homeowner have representation as well. Which is why homeowners continue to retain legal counsel to represent their interests in smoke and fire claims.
Advantages of Using A Law Firm
You have the legal right to be represented by an attorney to help you in the claim process. Law firms will usually not charge you anything up front, and instead will advance all costs associated with your side of proving the claim. Their fee is earned through the percentage of what they collect for you from the insurance company.
The lawyer also provides the inspectors, estimators and contractors that can perform a thorough inspection of all damage spots, visible and invisible, and prepare and negotiate the claim with the insurance adjuster. The most powerful tool in any lawyers’ arsenal is their ability to bring a bad faith lawsuit against the insurance company should they engage in deceptive and unfair claim practices in the handling of your claim.
You are under absolutely no obligation to accept the insurance adjusters estimate. The insurance company under law must be prepared to negotiate the estimate with your representative attorney.
What About Public Adjusters?
Public adjuster can be very useful in adjusting large total fire losses. They also do commercial loss adjusting as well. However, public adjusters are not lawyers and cannot assert direct legal pressure on insurance companies the way lawyers can. Nor can public adjusters represent the homeowner in litigated claim disputes.
For more on homeowner legal rights under fire insurance policies, litigating property and bad faith claims, locating local property loss attorneys and access to discount legal and financial services, go to GotTrouble.com