California’s recent fires have caused millions of dollars in destruction from property damage, injury, and death. The 2018 fire season has the dubious honor of being the worst in California history. Thousands of residents throughout the state have been displaced from their homes and suffered both tangible and intangible losses as a result. Knowing your options for compensation following a wildfire is one of the best ways to protect your family and your assets.
Knowing Your Options After a Disaster
Many people know that they can file a claim with their homeowners insurance policy following a disaster, but there are several other options available. Depending on your coverage, you may be able to secure additional compensation through your renters insurance, business insurance, or auto insurance policies. File claims with all your available policies to maximize your potential compensation amount.
Maximizing Your Claim Value
Policyholders can take certain steps to protect their right to compensation following a natural disaster. Take these steps to maximize your compensation from your insurance company.
1. Save Copies of All Your Receipts
Depending on your coverage, you may be able to obtain compensation for additional living expenses or loss of use under Coverage D of most homeowner’s insurance policies. These policies cover expenses like:
- Hotel stays
- Additional mileage, or to travel to/from the damaged property
- Storage unit fees
- Laundry costs
- Additional costs for carry out food
- Rental costs to rent a comparable property
Save copies of everything and submit them with your claim to maximize your compensation based on the terms of your policy.
2. Have a Professional Evaluate Your Home’s Damage
A claims adjuster will likely come out to your home, if it’s still standing, to evaluate the damage and determine the claim value. Keep in mind, however, that insurers are for-profit companies. Hire a professional inspector or contractor to complete a comprehensive assessment of your home and surrounding property. This will give you an official, third-party record of the damage, as well as their recommendation about what requires replacement versus a repair and what the scope of that repair/replacement might look like.
3. Consider a Personal Injury Claim
Beyond the obvious injuries caused by the flames, wildfire smoke can prove hazardous to your health, especially to vulnerable populations like children or the elderly. Symptoms of wildfire smoke damage may include:
- Burning eyes
- Chest pain
- Sinus pain
- Sore throat
Wildfire smoke can also exacerbate conditions like asthma, COPD, and heart conditions. It also contains particulates from synthetic materials that can be very hazardous to those with chronic diseases.
If you or a loved one suffered ill effects from a wildfire and incurred medical bills as a result, it might be appropriate to consider a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party. Many families are pursuing claims against PG&E for the Camp Fire on the grounds of inadequate and negligent maintenance of power lines.
4. Your Options Now
Processing insurance claims can take a while. In the meantime, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is offering assistance to those affected by the Camp Fire. Federal grants through FEMA can help your family pay for temporary housing and other direct expenses you may incur as a result of the fire.
If you need FEMA assistance, your first step is to visit www.disasterassistance.gov to fill out an application. You’ll need information like your Social Security number, the address of your home, a description of the damage, your insurance information, mailing address, telephone number, and bank info for direct deposit. This can help tide you over until you can obtain fair compensation from your insurance company or lay the groundwork for other claims.
It’s also a good idea to consult an attorney before signing any paperwork or agreeing to any offers from your insurance company. Unlike an insurance company, an attorney will have your best interests at heart and will tell you if your claim offer accurately reflects the amount of damage you suffered.