Fire & Smoke Claims
Fire is extremely dangerous and is a risk to both your property and your health. There’s a reason fire damage is included in most homeowners’ insurance policies. Fire can cause severe damage or even completely destroy property. Fires can also strike anywhere. No building or location is immune from the risk of fire.
Homeowners and business owners, therefore, pay a premium for insurance that will cover any damages a fire could cause. With the amount you pay for insurance, you would expect that if the worst should happen, your insurance company would cover the damages. But insurance companies are businesses wanting to make a profit. Many homeowners and business owners submitting claims for fire and smoke damages to their property find that their claims are either denied or are approved, but for far too little.
If your home has been damaged by fire and smoke but your insurance company has denied your claim, we can help. You may have legal recourse against the insurance company that failed to hold up their end of the agreement. Contact Farah & Farah today for a free consultation. You don’t pay a dime unless your case is successful.
What Can Cause a Fire?
In both homes and businesses, there are many things that can cause a fire to break out. These can range from natural disasters such as lightning strikes to faulty wiring to accidents in the kitchen. No matter the cause, provided the fire was not set intentionally, damage from the fire should be covered by your insurance policy.
In commercial properties, the top causes of fires include:
- Cooking equipment
- Heating equipment
- Lighting and electrical equipment
- Smoking paraphernalia
- Intentional fires
Of these, cooking equipment causes the most fires in any business that has a kitchen. Heating, lighting, and electrical equipment are the next-largest source of commercial fires. Educational institutions, on the other hand, have a higher rate of intentional fires than other commercial locations.
The most frequent causes of fires in homes are:
- Cooking equipment
- Smoking inside the house (particularly in bedrooms)
- Electrical equipment
- Faulty wiring
- Flammable materials
While many home fires are caused by misuse of equipment or homeowners not paying enough attention to something like a burning candle or space heater, many are caused by aging equipment. The cords of appliances like toasters can fray with time, making them a fire hazard. To avoid the risk of a fire, it’s important to make sure all appliances and electrical systems are up-to-date, including the furnace.
What Damage Can a Fire Cause?
Fires can cause thousands of dollars in damage to a property, or even more, depending on the value of the property and the items within it. It also depends on the intensity and size of the fire. Fire is unpredictable and can rapidly spread throughout an entire building. Losses can be devastating. Property owners can lose everything to fire and what you get from your insurance company may not be enough to cover it.
The fire itself can cause great damage. It can burn anything that it touches, from possessions to the structure of the building. It can be difficult or impossible to restore something damaged too badly by fire.
The fire isn’t the only potential source of damage. Smoke from the flames can be toxic and dangerous to anyone inside the house. It can also damage your property. Soot from the fire settles on surfaces and can actually cause more damage than the fire because the smoke can reach far beyond the size of the blaze. Most of the damage as a result of a fire is often caused by smoke instead of the flames.
Lastly, heat from the fire can also cause a lot of damage. It can burn skin even from afar and can crack, melt, or warp materials inside the house. Glass can shatter, metal can bend. Just like the smoke, heat from a fire can radiate far from where the blaze is, causing more widespread damage.
Debris from damaged items or parts of the building can pose a danger to anyone who enters the building. It can also cause further damage to other property if it falls or collapses.
Partial vs. Total Loss
Insurance companies classify property damage after a fire as either a partial loss or a total loss.
In a partial loss, the home or business is damaged, but not completely destroyed by the fire, smoke, or heat. The insurance company would pay for the cost of repair and the replacement of anything that couldn’t be repaired, within the scope of the insurance policy. With a partial loss, it’s important to look for damage that might be hidden, such as smoke damage in areas that are farther away from the fire.
In a total loss, the property has been completely destroyed or is rendered unusable by the fire. A total loss would result in the maximum amount the insurance company could pay based on the scope of your policy and the value of your home or business and property contained within. A difficulty that many property owners run into with a total loss is proving to the insurance company what was lost. The building itself is obvious, but what was contained within can be more difficult to prove.
What Is Fire Insurance?
Fire insurance is an insurance policy specifically for damage and loss caused by a fire. Typically, fire damage is covered under standard homeowners and business owners’ insurance policies. Many home and business owners will not need a separate insurance policy specifically for fire damage. However, some policies may exclude fire damage from coverage or, if the standard coverage isn’t enough, some property owners may wish to purchase extra insurance to ensure enough coverage in the event of a fire.
Does My Insurance Policy Cover Fire?
Most standard homeowners’ insurance policies cover fire damage. However, it’s important to know exactly what is in your policy when you take it out. It’s possible for fire damage to be excluded or for there to be a limit on your coverage that is less than the actual value of your property.
Does My Insurance Policy Cover Smoke Damage?
Most insurance policies will cover damage from smoke. Typically, this coverage involves the cost of cleaning. Insurance companies may not want to pay to replace items that have been damaged by it. In some cases, cleaning is sufficient for items that have been damaged by smoke, but in other cases, they may need to be replaced entirely.
What Should My Insurance Company Pay?
Insurance companies should pay the total cost of cleaning and repair to bring the house back to a uniform standard in appearance and to cover lost property. This may even include covering the replacement of things like flooring that weren’t damaged so that the building retains a uniform appearance. However, this doesn’t always happen.
Insurance companies are businesses, first and foremost. This means that they will want to pay as little as possible towards your claim. There may be limits within the policy itself that restrict the amount to be paid out to a maximum amount. Even if there isn’t a limit within your insurance policy, the insurance company may want you to provide proof of what was lost in the fire, which can be difficult without receipts.
How Do I Make a Fire and Smoke Claim?
If your home or business has been damaged or destroyed by a fire, including from heat and smoke, it’s important to take the proper steps afterward. Insurance companies are businesses looking to make a profit and they may be looking for any excuse to not pay as much or maybe not even pay at all.
Assess the Damage
The first step is to determine exactly what was damaged. Even if it was only a partial loss, make sure to check the entire building because smoke and heat can cause more widespread damage to other parts of the building.
Review Your Insurance Policy
When making a claim, it’s vital that you know exactly what your policy covers. You will also need to know if there are any limitations or restrictions on your policy. You’ll want to make sure that you file the claim 100% correctly in order to give the insurance company no way to try to get out of paying what they should by saying the claim wasn’t filed correctly. You’ll also need to know as soon as possible if there’s a limit to how much damage your insurance company will pay for.
Notify Your Insurance Company
Inform your insurance company immediately of the fire. There may not be a time limit on most insurance policies requiring you to inform the company immediately, but it’s still a good idea to begin the process right away. The damage to your property may have made it unusable and the longer you wait to file the claim, the longer it will take before you can see any money for repairs or replacements.
If you wait to make a claim and the property sustains further damage because the original damage from the fire went unrepaired for a period of time, the insurance company will not reimburse you or pay you for the repairs.
Have the Damage Inspected
Your insurance company will send out an adjuster to inspect the damage and determine the value of what was damaged or lost. However, you should also have the damage inspected yourself by a professional independent of your insurance company. Even if the insurance company won’t pay to send out an independent professional to inspect your property, it’s worth it to pay for one anyway. A professional inspection may catch things like smoke damage or heat damage in other parts of the property or other damage that isn’t as obvious that an adjuster may miss.
Document and Photograph Everything
Throughout the entire process, you should take photographic records of everything. Take pictures of the damage immediately after the fire of the damage that you can see. When the professional is there to inspect the property, also take pictures of any additional damage found during the inspection.
Document every step you take during the claims process. You may need to prove that something was damaged or inspected.
Keep Maintenance Records
As repairs are done on your property, keep records of all maintenance that was done. If you’re paying for repairs that the insurance company will then reimburse, it’s important to be able to prove that the maintenance was done and how much was paid for it.
What Is Florida’s Valued Policy Law?
Florida’s Valued Policy Law requires insurers to cover in full a total property loss if even some of the damage was caused by a peril covered by the insurance policy. This means that if the insurance policy covers one type of peril but not another peril, and the property was a total loss but only part of the damage was caused by the peril that was covered, the insurance company will still be responsible for the maximum amount allowed by the policy.
In the case of fire, this means that, in Florida, if your insurance policy covers fire damage, but not smoke or heat damage, and the insurance company determined that only part of the damage in a total loss was caused by the fire itself, they would still be responsible for the full amount of what the policy was for, even if only part of the damage was caused by the fire itself.
Why Was My Fire and Smoke Damage Claim Denied?
Insurance companies don’t make money by paying money out. Your insurance company may be looking for any excuse to not pay or to pay less than the true value of the damage.
Arson or Fraud Allegations
If you set the fire deliberately, whether to commit insurance fraud or for another reason, the insurance company won’t be responsible for paying for the damage. This means that the insurance company may allege that you set the fire deliberately in order to get out of paying.
Differences in Valuation
The insurance company’s adjuster may have determined that the value of the damaged property is a lot less than you believe it is. Even if they agree to pay, the amount you get may be less than what it will actually cost to repair the full amount of damage to your property. This is why it is important to have an independent professional inspect the damage to your property after the fire. They can provide you with proof you need to fight for a higher amount.
If there are terms and conditions to your insurance policy that aren’t followed, the insurance company may have an excuse to deny your claim. It’s therefore essential that you read your policy in full and completely understand any terms that may exist so that you know you’ve kept up your end of the agreement.
How Can an Attorney Help Me?
If your home or business has been damaged by a fire and your insurance company is either denying your claim or refusing to pay for the full amount of the damage within what your policy allows, you may have a case. An attorney can help you not only understand the terms of your insurance policy so you know what you should be owed, but also fight on your behalf to ensure that you get the full amount of coverage to repair the damage to your home or business.
Farah & Farah’s legal team are experts in insurance law and have a lot of experience taking on insurance companies. Let us help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation. You won’t pay a dime unless your case is successful.