After a fire, dealing with your insurance company

JProper smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms can mean the difference between having a home to live in – or even having a life to live, considering 80% of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. 7 a.m.

Luckily, “Anna” and “Danny” weren’t part of those stats, as they had a CO detector that went off in the early morning of December 28, 2021.

“It was a smoldering ceiling fire in our attic with little smoke, but created carbon monoxide. Our Kidde CO detector woke us from a deep sleep, giving us time to call 911 Only a small bathroom and a utility room next to the kitchen were damaged,” Danny said.

“We would appreciate any advice you can offer so that we don’t do the wrong things with our insurance claim.”

Fire? Here’s what NOT to do

I’ve had Danny’s important question answered by friends in this column, Rachel Greenberg, Los Angeles-based retired homeowners claims adjuster, and Karl Susman, insurance broker and insurance coverage expert witness.

Rachel: Don’t delay calling 911 if you smell smoke or suspect a fire.

Consequences: This raises a suspicion of criminal fire. Insureds have a duty to mitigate (reduce) damage under the terms of the policy.

Carl: In addition to calling 911, immediately report the loss to your insurance company. The delay in both cases makes the whole claim suspect and may affect payment, even if legitimate.

Rachel: Be sure to quickly start taking an inventory of what has been destroyed or damaged. And don’t be a hero and start do-it-yourself repairs.

Consequences: Home insurance policies usually provide replacement coverage, but you need to know what has been lost. Unless you have dated photos – showing the structure and contents of cupboards and drawers – the further you get from the incident, the more your memory will suffer and you won’t get paid for what you can’t. prove that he was at your home.

Carl: By starting to fix things yourself, you may not realize that the damage is much greater. If you do it yourself without the approval of the claims representative, chances are you won’t be properly reimbursed.

These things are giant red flags to avoid

Rachel: Having a bad attitude towards adjusters.

Consequences: They might be dragging their feet instead of getting things done faster. Now is the time to be patient and cooperative. Their job is to help you. They are not your enemy!

Being a fool, overly anxious and arrogant gonna slow things down. If you insist that you need that money and you need it NOW, there is usually a problem. Insurance adjusters think, “Someone has a lot of debt and sees an insurance claim as a quick way to get money to pay it off.”

Carl: How you react at the scene is important. Carriers receive copies of first responder reports. All this information is transmitted to the expert. They are trained to detect fraud, especially by inflating what has been lost. If a landlord is insistent, it will make the adjuster suspicious – and a credit check will be done.

Do not do it. Do not complete the list of destroyed objects. If caught, in some states the insurance company may deny the entire claim.

Rachel: Abuse of the “Temporary Living Expenses” section of your insurance policy by going to the Presidential Suite at the Ritz-Carlton and asking room service to bring caviar each day for breakfast.

Consequences: “Can I stay where I want?” is a frequently asked question. You must stay in a place similar to where you lived before. It doesn’t mean a million dollar mansion in Malibu, unless that’s where you lived before the loss.

Approval from your adjuster – before renting an apartment or checking into a very expensive hotel – is required, otherwise you could face a denial of payment under this section of your policy. Often insurance companies have pre-negotiated room rates with great properties, so it’s always important to give your adjuster a chance to find accommodation for you.

Carl: You will not be rewarded for extravagant spending. If you didn’t order the most expensive item on the menu every day before the fire, you won’t be reimbursed for doing so after. “Is this how you and your family normally eat?” a trimmer will ask if he’s presented with a mind-numbing bill for eating in fancy restaurants.

Think, “I’ve been paying my premiums for 20 years and you owe me!” Now is where I get what I pay for,” is not how insurance works.

Common sense is so important before a fire or other disaster. With expensive jewelry, clothes, anything of unusual value, let your agent know and get an appraisal and possibly an endorsement.

Concluding our discussion, Rachel and Karl emphasized this last point:

“Do not embellish, lie, rush, assume or guess. Do not create an adversarial relationship with your expert. They are not your enemy!

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which can be faxed to 661-323-7993 or emailed to And don’t forget to visit

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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