My heart goes out to the survivors and the families of victims of the Camp, Woolsey and Hill Fires. Our website includes a lot of information to help you through this process. Please explore our articles on how to read your policy, your insurance legal rights, and many others. We have articles about your mortgage, what your policy coverages mean, and many more.
Don’t rush your insurance claim.
The claims process is often long, difficult, and filled with paperwork. You will need to dedicate substantial time to it. Be thoughtful about everything your insurance company asks of you. You may realize that your insurance company is acting as your adversary and not your ally.
If you choose to rebuild, that process will take a long time as well. Most wildfire survivors do not finish rebuilding until at least two years after the fire. The price of labor and materials in your area is surely going to increase, likely by a lot. The availability of labor will decrease. Similarly, the cost of alternative housing in the area is likely to go up. All of these factors add to the complicated insurance process.
You may also find public adjusters and others soliciting you for business. These professionals can be very helpful if you can afford it, but only if they are properly licensed. You can check the status of their license on the California Department of Insurance’s website.
Do not be surprised if you are under-insured, but ask why.
Many of the past fires have shows us that most homeowners are underinsured. For those who will learn their insurance is insufficient to cover their losses, some insurance companies may decide to pay out the total policy limits immediately to help offset the problem.
If you are underinsured, there could be many reasons why. They could be poor recommendations from agents or brokers or inaccurate estimates from insurance companies. It is also not uncommon that agents, brokers and insurers fail to get the coverage the customer requests. If you are in one of these situations, you may have legal recourse.
Insurance companies are stretched thin. They will have to bring in adjusters from other states, and they will not be familiar with California law. Make sure you are double-checking things against what we have posted here and other reputable sources.
The Department of Insurance should help.
California has had a helpful Department of Insurance in recent history. Expect the DOI to put pressure on insurance companies to speed up the claims process, pay more without evidence, and the like. The DOI also takes consumer complaints, which forces an insurance company to justify what they are doing to the DOI regulators. Filing complaints, when reasonable, can help move your claim along. The DOI even offers a mediation program to help insurers and their customers resolve disputes.
Do not accept a full or partial claim denial without a proper evaluation.
If your insurance company tells you that some or all of your loss is not insured at all, investigate why that is. Your insurance company may be wrongfully denying your claim.
Everyone’s circumstance is different. Take your insurance claim seriously and be thoughtful about each step. It is not an easy process, but you can get through it.