Tennessee Insurance Dispute Lawyers Handling Fire Claims
Helping policyholders throughout the Southeast and Midwest who have sustained damage from flames, smoke, soot, and ash
A loose wire, a pot left too long on the stove, a carelessly tossed match or cigarette – fires happen for all sorts of reasons and can completely destroy homes and burn commercial buildings to the ground. Policyholders need all types of help after a fire rips through their structures. They need to salvage what they can. The need to make repairs or rebuild from scratch. They usually need to relocate for months or even a year. Fires alter lives. They crush dreams.
At McWherter Scott & Bobbitt, our Tennessee-based insurance dispute attorneys move quickly when we learn a fire has ravaged your home, your business, your church, your condo, or any property. We work with cause and origin experts to determine the cause of the fire. We work with professionals to assess and value the damage to structures, properties, and contents. We seek advances when proper so life can continue, while the claim is being processed. And, when necessary, we file lawsuits to recover insurance funds. We hold insurance carriers accountable for paying the full amount owed.
Significant Case Results
Industrial Facility v. AXIS Surplus Ins. The Firm represented a West TN business owner after a fire loss, and after a lengthy battle obtained a total settlement of more than $3.9 million for loss of business income and extra expense.
Firm helped a condominium complex defend an appraisal award after three fire losses, and ultimately obtained the client a settlement for a supplemental payment of more than $1.7 million.
John Doe v. (Certain Underwriters) at Lloyds (United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee). Firm represented the owners of a restaurant damaged by a fire. The insurance carrier originally denied the claim, but ultimately settled for $950,000+.
What to do before and after a loss
In order to ensure you are adequately protected in the wake of significant fire damage to your home or commercial property, it is essential first and foremost to buy and maintain property insurance. Make sure that your policy provides protection for your various assets and that the coverage amounts are sufficient.
Secondly, be sure to keep your policy and endorsements, and any amendments, in a fireproof safe deposit box. If your insurance policy was destroyed in the fire, request a certified copy from your insurance agent or company immediately. You need to know what coverage you have and what you can make a claim for in order to receive everything to which you are entitled.
Don’t delay in reporting your claim. The sooner you can let your insurance company know about the fire, the better. Your policy may provide you with benefits that can help you live somewhere else while your home is either rebuilt or repaired, as well as pay for other living expenses. If it is your business that is destroyed, your policy may offer loss of business income to help offset the lack of revenues during reconstruction. After you report your claim, make a note of your claim number, along with the name and number of your adjuster.
Read your policy
After any fire loss, you should take time to read your policy. It’s important to know what your coverages are, as well as the limits of those coverages. Property insurance policies also often include time limits for many things, including:
- Submitting a proof of loss
- Recovering replacement cost benefits
- The length of time living expenses or loss of business income is covered
- Filing a lawsuit against the insurance company
It’s important for you, your contractor, your public adjuster, and anyone else assisting with your claim to be aware of these items. If there are sections of your policy that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask for an explanation. If you don’t understand, have a lawyer review it.
Know the type of adjuster who will assess your damage
Find out whether the adjuster coming to assess the damage is an independent adjuster hired by your insurer or an employee of the insurance company. If an independent adjuster, find out if the adjuster is authorized to make decisions about your claim and make payments as a third-party working for your insurance company.
Receipts and records
Expect to receive some pushback from your insurance company. If this happens, have documentation ready to assert your claim. Keep receipts for everything you have to purchase after the fire. This paper trail can help you prove your claim for additional living expenses and your entitlement to other coverages.
It may also be a good idea to shoot a video of your property and its contents each year when your policy renews. This will help you document the items you own and their condition. Be sure to keep your video recordings and any photos you take in a fireproof safe deposit box or upload it to the cloud for easy access later. While such a video is certainly not required, it can help immensely during the claim process by clearly showing what was present in the home or building.
Create your own records and notes
Keep clear and understandable notes of your conversations with your claims adjuster. As well, record the events of your case as they transpire. It’s important to have your own record of what occurs during the claims process.
After the fire event, take photographs and/or videos of the damage before any repair work is done. Make a list of all damages and damaged items as a result of the fire and its aftermath. Do whatever is possible to minimize any secondary damage from occurring.
Be sure to save receipts for any cleanup efforts, emergency repairs and associated costs you incur, even including the expenses of staying at or working out of a hotel temporarily. All this may fall under the additional living expenses portion of your policy.
Fight back as necessary
Don’t simply file your claim and sit back and wait for everything to happen. Follow-up and check in with your insurance company, adjuster, or agent regularly about the progress of your claim. Don’t just accept a denial of your claim or assume a payment received is all you may be owed. Take the time necessary to know your rights, and then take the steps to enforce them.
How our skilled Tennessee help you steer through the insurance claim process
Our Tennessee-based insurance dispute lawyers anticipate and defend against unwarranted denials and under-payments by insurance companies. We help you document each element of your claim. When necessary, we consult with appraisers, contractors, engineers, architects, and other professional to help determine what you should do to preserve your belongings, so they look and work like they did (property and contents) before the fire.
Some of the issues we focus on are:
- Countering any claims of arson. Sometimes insurance companies will assert that the fire was started intentionally. When major fires occur, cause and origin experts are often called in by the insurance company to investigate the fire. And, depending on the claim, it may be worth the time and money for the policyholder to hire one as well. We have successfully represented policyholders wrongfully accused of arson.
- Whether to repair or rebuild. Depending on the severity of the fire, policyholders need to determine whether to repair the part of a building that was damaged or to rebuild from the ground up. With fire damage, it is especially critical to understand how the entire building fits together, from the foundation up, to properly assess the costs of reconstruction and restoration.
- Smoke and water damage. Generally, policies should also cover related damages such as smoke and water damage.
- The quality of a rebuilt structure. Often insurance companies will argue that the roof was already old, or some part was in a state of disrepair. They’ll argue that you shouldn’t get a brand new house when your house was significantly older. We’ll hold the carriers to the terms of the policy, including the duty to rebuild with like kind and quality materials and to properly blend the rebuilt structures with any old structures.
- The value of damaged possessions. The difference between replacement cost value and actual cash value is often misunderstood by claimants. To make matters worse, insurers often over-depreciate items and take advantage of policyholders. We work closely with trained professionals to make sure damaged items are appropriately valued and depreciated, and then also work hand-in-hand with our clients to guide them the process of recovering depreciation on policies with replacement cost benefits.
Obtaining temporary advances for relocation and emergencies
Relocation is often necessary after a fire. Families need a place to live, businesses need a place to operate, churches need a place to worship, etc. Many policies allow for payments associated with these relocation expenses, including but not limited to moving costs, temporary lodging, and alternative business locations.
In addition, advances should be made so you can purchase new clothes, office furniture, new inventory, or other necessities. For companies and nonprofits that have business interruption / extra expense coverage, those policies should pay to get your IT systems back online and to rent equipment and materials for your occupation.
Fire accident victims need to keep all their receipts and records of what they purchase or rent – so they can be properly reimbursed.
What other fire insurance dispute issues may arise?
All fire insurance claims are unique. There are a few common issues:
- The scope of the damage. Many times it isn’t difficult to locate and price the damage caused by flames. However, smoke, soot, char, and ash can wreak havoc and hide in wall cavities, electrical conduit, and other hidden spaces. Trained professionals should be utilized to find and develop a protocol to remove all of the fire debris, not just cover it up with a coat of paint or trap it in the building permanently.
- Good faith negotiations. We hold insurance carriers to the duty to negotiate in good faith. Insurance can’t take advantage of you because you’re desperate to get back into your home or get your business back up and running. If they delay, make unreasonable arguments, or make knowingly unnecessary requests, insurance companies can be held liable for bad faith damages.
- Different structures have different complexities. Rebuilding multi-dwelling units, office complexes, condominiums, and other buildings with multiple tenants or owners can be difficult because there are multiple claimants and many times multiple different insurance policies. And, the various insurers and people with interest in them often have competing goals. Our skilled fire insurance lawyers guide you through these complexities.
Prompt help when fires ravage your property
We understand how horrifying it is to see your home, business, townhouse, church, or buildings go up in flame. We know you buy insurance so that when tragedy strikes, you can quickly rebuild and get the funds you deserve and need, so you can put the fire behind you and start over. At McWherter Scott & Bobbitt, our Tennessee-based fire insurance dispute lawyers contest every effort by the insurance company to limit or deny your claim. We work with professionals to properly determine what work needs to be done and the full value of your losses. For experienced help, please call 731-664-1340 or complete our contact form to make an appointment. Our attorneys are licensed in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri.