Colorado Wildfire: 10 Recommendations for Home Owners and Business Owners
By Christopher Mosley, Katie Varholak and Jay Sturhahn
The recent wild fires have been tragic for Colorado homeowners and business owners alike, leading to a loss of life, property and, in many cases, revenue. For many, insurance will provide the most important avenue to help respond to these losses and to rebuild lives and businesses. Below are suggestions for actions you can take to ensure your claim is timely and fairly adjusted.
- Give notice immediately. Contact your property insurance company as soon as possible to report the claim, both verbally and in writing. Give notice even if you don't yet know the full extent of the damage and before you undertake significant repairs or mitigation efforts. Also notify and enlist your broker to help document the claim and shepherd it through the investigation process.
- Review your policy. If your property insurance policy was lost in the fires or if you do not have a copy, ask your broker or insurance company for one right away. Review the policy with your broker to determine what kinds of losses may be covered.
- Seek immediate payment. Ask for an "advance" payment to cover emergency expenses and costs required to mitigate damages, even before the insurer has fully adjusted the claim. Your insurer should be willing to pay now to avoid bigger losses later. Secure and protect your property to the best degree possible, to avoid any dispute about mitigation.
- Think broadly about your losses. Keep in mind that many property policies cover more than physical loss of property from the fire itself. In particular, smoke damage could be covered even if there was no fire on your property, as could damage caused by efforts to fight the fire or the evacuations associated with the fire. Business interruption and contingent business interruption losses are also typically covered.
- Quantify the losses. Conduct an inventory of your losses as completely as possible, including: damaged property, lost intangible property, relocation expenses, temporary housing expenses, lost revenue, business interruption and any other losses related to the fires. Make a list of losses and submit it to your insurer even if you or your broker do not believe all may be covered. Obtain the help of qualified professionals such as your broker, accountant or attorney to assist as necessary.
- Document the losses. Document the losses and related expenses caused by the fire and associated disruptions as they accrue. Take photographs and video of property damage before it is repaired. Keep receipts, invoices, bids and other documentation associated with repairs and other expenses. Provide your insurer with copies of the documentation if requested.
- Document your communications. Keep copies of everything you send to your insurer. Document all communications with your insurer by keeping copies of e-mails, texts or letters and making contemporaneous notes of telephone conversations. Insurance companies will be dealing with many claims, but your insurer still has a duty to communicate and adjust your claim promptly. If the insurer denies all or part of your claim, evidence of your communications with your insurer may become critical to your pursuit of coverage.
- Cooperate with your insurer. To the extent possible, respond to phone calls and reasonable requests for information from your insurer. Pay your premiums. Do not be afraid to ask why the information is needed. Keep an open line of communication with your insurer. If the insurer's investigation is dragging out, press the insurer for information and ask how you can help speed things along.
- Negotiate with your insurer. Do not accept the insurer's initial position at face value either as to coverage or the cost of repair/replacement. Your insurer should be willing to consider your position on coverage. Seek advice from your broker or a qualified insurance attorney if your insurer denies all or part of the claim. Seek your own repair and/or replacement estimates and be prepared to carefully inspect and, if necessary, challenge the insurance company's estimates.
- Be wary of releases. Do not sign a release until you understand the scope of the release. You may later learn of additional damages associated with the fire which are unknown at this time. Avoid signing a release that is broader than the claim being paid.
If you or anyone you know requires legal assistance with an insurance claim, please contact any member of our Insurance Recovery Practice Group. We would be happy to consult with you.
Attorneys in the Sherman & Howard Insurance Recovery Practice Group
are available to assist with these and other issues.
Sherman & Howard has prepared this advisory to provide general information on recent legal developments that may be of interest. This advisory does not provide legal advice for any specific situation. This does not create an attorney-client relationship between any reader and the firm. If you want legal advice on a specific situation, you must speak with one of our lawyers and reach an express agreement for legal representation.
©2012 Sherman & Howard L.L.C. July 3, 2012