Recovering from Fire Damage: Know Your Legal Rights and Your Rights with Your Insurance Company.

Throughout the entire process of returning to your home, recovering your property, rebuilding your home or business, and restarting your lives, perhaps the most important aspect is staying informed.

Did you know, for example, that once you give notice to your insurance company, it triggers deadlines for them to investigate your claims and respond? Typically, your insurance provider is required to start an investigation within 15 days, and accept or deny your claim within 40 days. They’re also required to explain all of the coverage options that are available to you. The reason for this is so that you, as the insured, have enough information to understand your options and move forward in an informed way through the claims process.

But these are details and specific procedures that you may not fully understand. And why would you? You’re not an insurance professional, and you’re just trying to get through an emotionally-charged period, and rebuild your lives. That’s why it’s essential to consider hiring an attorney who has expertise in filing insurance claims and insurance litigation.

If Your Insurance Claim is Denied.

If your insurance company denies your claim, you should not accept the denial without question. There are certain steps you can take to ensure that the denial is warranted under your policy, or if it’s not—to fight against the denial with a formal dispute. First, Request an Explanation.

If your insurance company denies part or all of your claims, first demand that they explain in detail the reasons for the denial. Ask them to cite specific sections of your insurance policy for each denial, and explain why the policy permits each denial. Demand details of how every individual segment of the coverage applies to your claim, and how it affects your attempt to replace your property and rebuild. Ask for everything they tell you in writing so that you have a record of your communications.

Contact the California Department of Insurance.

The state has public agencies whose responsibility is to help consumers like you navigate the ever-confusing insurance claims process. Put them to work for you!

For example, the Consumer Communications Bureau is charged with educating consumers about the regulatory responsibilities of insurers and helping provide consumer information regarding insurance matters. The CCB has a hotline you can call to ask questions and share your concerns. They may ask that you fill out a formal Request for Assistance document that will provide the Department with the necessary information to open an investigation into your case. The Department will then look into whether your insurance company is fulfilling the duties it owes to you as the insured policyholder.

Your Legal Rights with Potential Litigation.

Adding to the confusion, recent reports indicate that the fire may have been sparked by downed power lines that are owned and maintained by the California utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric (“PG&E”). The initial investigation indicates that PG&E’s power equipment failures led to the wildfires. This information raises questions about how well the utility maintained its equipment. That’s because, under California state law, PG&E is required to maintain its equipment by doing routine maintenance, such as cutting back trees and limbs from power lines to reduce the risk of fire.

If PG&E negligently failed to maintain its power line equipment and infrastructure, it could be found liable for the fire—and potentially the damages you and your family incurred as a result.

And it wouldn’t be the first time: PG&E and other California utilities have a history of being found responsible for wildfires caused by their failure to adequately maintain their power lines. In April 2017, PG&E was fined over $8 million for failing to maintain a power line that led to the September 2015 fire in Amador County that destroyed 549 homes, burned more than 70,000 acres, and killed two people. In all, PG&E is currently facing more than 1,000 lawsuits and claims related to fire negligence.

If your home has been damaged by the recent fires, do not forfeit your right to potential legal claims against PG&E or any other determined cause of the flames. If a court determines that a utility is liable for the California fire, you may be able to recover damages related to your property damage, cost of repairs, and even personal injuries.

Consult an attorney.

To preserve your rights to potential litigation, you should consult an attorney with experience in fire-related litigation and claims. If you’re not satisfied with the insurance company’s response to your claim, or if their answers are confusing, you should consult an attorney who has the expertise and experience dealing with disaster law and big insurance companies.

We have a team of insurance law attorneys who are ready to counsel victims of fire and other natural disasters about their rights as insured, throughout all stages of the insurance claims process. We are here to make sure that you understand your rights, and that those rights are protected.

The insurance paperwork can be confusing, so we help our clients through every step of the process, from creating a Proof of Loss form, documenting damage, and analyzing your policy to determining the scope of your coverage. We can help you document your damage efficiently and completely, so that you submit a comprehensive claim to your insurer and maximize the amount of compensation you receive for your losses.

Although you may not be able to recover the 100% value of each item of property that was damaged, you do want to ensure that you do everything to maximize the coverage that you receive. That’s why we are here to advise you throughout every stage of the claims process to make sure that you are not taken advantage of by your insurance company, and—most importantly—that you receive the maximum compensation you deserve for your losses.

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