My house caught on fire, what do I do?
Contact your insurance agent to obtain a copy of your homeowner's insurance policy.Because insurance documents are usually destroyed in house fires, your insurance agent should be the best source of insurance documents. The main document you need is your insurance policies and information on how to file a claim with your insurance carrier. Once you have this information, it is important to read your policy to determine what aspects of your damage will be covered by your insurance policy.
Usually, an insurance policy covers not only the damage to the building, but also the contents within the building and the additional costs of living, which includes that hotel room that you will be staying in the night after the fire.
File your claim with your insurance companyOnce you have gathered all of the insurance information from your homeowner's insurer, it is important to immediately file a claim with your insurer. In some states, such as Louisiana, the moment you file your claim begins a period of time in which your insurer must pay you any amounts of the claim that are undisputed.
Once you have filed your claim, the insurance company will assign an adjustor to your claim. The adjustor should contact you within a week or so at the latest. The adjustor will want to inspect your property and may ask for documentation. Further, the adjustor may request that you provide a recorded statement. This is all part of the insurer's investigation into your claim.
It is important to remember that the insurance adjustor is not your friend, is being paid by the insurance company and relies upon that insurance company's future business. Therefore, proceed with caution when dealing with an adjustor.
Having a lawyer present during an examination under oath is wiseDuring the course of the claim investigation your insurer may ask that you take what is called an "examination under oath" or EUO. An EUO is a sworn statement that can be used against you in future litigation involving your insurance claim. I always recommend that an attorney be present during an EUO to ensure that the insurer does not commit some act that would unknowingly and innocently hurt the insurance claim. Although an insurance company is not supposed to treat the handling of an insured's claim in an adverse manner, many insurers use EUOs to help assist them in denying or reducing their liability in an insured's claim. Therefore, it is very important that a claimant not naively go into an EUO.
Documenting the damage to your house.You should never rely upon an adjustor to fully document the damage to your home. Immediately after the fire, I always recommend that you use a good camera (preferably digital) and take as many pictures as your camera can hold. In almost every fire case that I have handled, the insurance company seems to forget that water was used by the firefighters to extinguish the fire and prevent it from spreading into other areas of the house. Because you can't feel how wet something is in a picture, take pictures of the water/soot streaks on the walls, mirrors, doors, etc.
Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. The insurance adjustor knows this and you can bet that he will be taking pictures to best show how the house sustained minimal damage from the fire.
Also, if you have a video camera, use it to describe the areas of your home and how the fire damaged the rooms, walls, etc.