By Insurance Information Institute, Special for USDR
Insurance adjusters, catastrophe personnel and mobile claim centers have been deployed to staging areas in Northern California to respond to customers impacted by the devastating wildfires, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
If your home, apartment or business has been damaged or destroyed by the wildfires, here’s what you need to know about filing a claim, how the claim process works and what’s covered.
1. Start the claims process as soon as possible
Be prepared to give your agent or insurance company representative a description of the damage to your property. Also, provide your agent with a copy of your home inventory if you have one. Your agent will report the loss immediately to your insurance company or to a qualified adjuster who will contact you as soon as possible in order to arrange an inspection of the damage. Make sure you give your agent a telephone number, preferably a cell phone number, where you can be reached.
2. Contact your agent or company immediately
When starting the settlement process, find out:
- Whether the damage is covered under the terms of your policy
- The timeframe you have to file a claim
- How long it will take to process the claim
- Whether you’ll need estimates for repairs
3. Learn what is covered
Your policy’s “declarations page” shows how your policy is divided into coverage categories: Dwelling (“Coverage A”), Other Structures (“Coverage B”), Personal Property (“Coverage C”), Loss of Use/Additional Living Expenses (“Coverage D”), as well as other categories such as liability and medical payments. You may also have additional “endorsements” or extra coverage listed on your declarations page. Policies are not all the same, and your insurer can answer your specific questions about your type of policy and amount of coverage you have.
Homeowners and Renters
Damage to homes and rental properties caused by fire, smoke, and soot are covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Moreover, property damage caused by firefighters while extinguishing wildfires is also covered under these same policies.
Standard homeowner and renters insurance policies also cover a policyholder’s Loss of Use (LOU)/Additional Living Expenses (ALE), when there is an insured disaster. Depending on your policy, this includes the expense of living away from home if there is a mandatory evacuation or if the insured property is damaged and uninhabitable. LOU typically covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and other additional expenses that come about when an insured property has been damaged so severely that you have to live elsewhere while it is being rebuilt. Most policies provide this coverage for up to 20 percent of the amount of insurance provided on the house. For example, if the house is insured for $400,000, then the LOU amount can be up to $80,000 (minus the deductible). Depending on your policy, this coverage may be available for up to 12 to 24 months, or even longer.
A typical homeowners policy will cover damage to trees, shrubs and plants up to 5% of your policy’s dwelling limit. The limit of insurance available per tree, shrub or plant is generally about $500. There is also coverage for debris removal. Depending on your policy, you either must use part of your dwelling benefits to cover this expense, or it may be offered as extra coverage above that. This extra coverage differs by insurer and may be a percentage of your Coverage A benefits, tied to the amount of the loss, or a fixed dollar amount.
Property damage to businesses by wildfires is typically covered under a Business Owners Policy (BOP) or through a Commercial Multi-Peril (CMP). Business income insurance (also known as business interruption) is typically included in a BOP or CMP and provides coverage for:
- Revenue lost due to the closure
- Fixed expenses, such as rent and utility costs
- Expenses of operating from a temporary location
Vehicles damaged by fire, smoke, and soot are also covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. Nearly four out of five drivers (78 percent) in the U.S. opt to purchase the coverage, according to the most recent data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
Recovering from wildfires takes time, and that’s why it is so important to get the claims process underway. Rebuilding homes and communities after widespread loss can take at least 18-24 months. Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Insurance professionals are ready to help you understand what damages are covered, help you start your claim, and can even issue an initial check to start you on the road to recovery.
SOURCE Insurance Information Institute