Insurance and safety tips when a wildfire strikes

Insurance and safety tips when a wildfire strikes

Since air quality will remain a health issue many weeks after the fire, the County of San Diego is urging residents to follow these guidelines regarding ash:

  • Do not use leaf blowers to move ash or hose ash particles into city drains.
  • Only use vacuums with HEPA filters.
  • Avoid skin contact with ash. If contact does occur, wash the area immediately.
  • Wear well-fitting dust masks.
  • Collected ash may be placed in trash bags for collection.

Tips for property insurance shoppers:

  • Be prepared to spend. The lowest price might not cover you.
  • Check insurance companies' financial strength with ratings companies such as A.M. Best and Moody's Investor Service. "A++" and "A+" are the highest ratings;"A," " A-," "B+" are also secure. Vulnerable companies carry a "B" rating or below.
  • Visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' website, naic.org, to search company-by-company for complaints.
  • Be specific. Find out policy stipulations for storm, water, mold, wind and flood. Ask about adding specific endorsements to get the coverage you want or need.
  • Make sure you know the difference between "equivalent" and "like/kind replacement," and find out what your policy offers. Like/kind replacement means a damaged wood-shingled roof will be replaced with a wood-shingled roof. Equivalent means the replacement roof might not be wood-shingled.
  • Get loss-of-use coverage for rent or hotel fees in case your home is uninhabitable after a catastrophe.
  • If you receive a notice of nonrenewal, start shopping right away. Consider switching low-risk policies like auto insurance to your new insurer for multiple-policy discounts.
  • Check with your state's Department of Insurance on the statute of limitations for filing a claim. California Department of Insurance can be reached at (800) 927-HELP (4357) or insurance.ca.gov.
  • Take photos and videos of everything in your home. Make copies and send them to relatives or friends. Keep the originals in a safe-deposit box.
  • Keep your policy and important paperwork in a fireproof/ waterproof safe.

Tips for dealing with insurance:

  • Getting started. When returning to a damaged or destroyed home, contact your insurance company as soon a possible to start your claim. Document every conversation, including the name of the person spoken with, the date and the specific purpose of your call. Wildfire emergency insurance hotline listings can be found at: insurance.ca.gov/consumer-alerts/index.cfm or by calling 1-800-927-HELP (4357).
  • Evidence. When presenting your claim, your insurance company will ask you to provide evidence of the damages, such as photos or video of your property before and after the disaster, an inventory of items damaged, receipts for temporary living costs and any repair estimates or receipts.
  • Living expenses. If you have financial hardship due to displacement during a wildfire emergency, your insurance company may be able to provide an advance on your settlement to cover living expenses. Any money given in advance, however, is usually deducted from your final settlement.
  • Claims process. Insurance companies are required to acknowledge receipt of claims, inform you of their decisions to accept or deny a claim, and pay settlements within a reasonable time frame.
  • Check with your state's Department of Insurance on the statute of limitations for filing a claim. California Department of Insurance can be reached at (800) 927-HELP (4357) or insurance.ca.gov.
  • Never assume the insurance adjuster represents your insurance company or your interests. After disasters, many companies use adjusters from third-party firms to handle the spike in claims.
  • Make sure you know the difference between "equivalent" and "like/kind replacement," and find out what your policy offers. Like/kind replacement means a damaged wood-shingled roof will be replaced with a wood-shingled roof. Equivalent means the replacement roof might not be wood-shingled.
  • If you experience a sizable loss, consider hiring a public insurance adjuster who will submit claims on your behalf to get the best settlement possible and receive a percentage of your settlement as compensation.
  • Don't rely on an adjuster's proof-of-loss statement. Use at least three independent contractors' estimates as your starting point. Many insurance companies use "one-size-fits-all" price lists to estimate repairs which often doesn't factor in higher material costs or higher-end installations.
  • For other important information or to conduct a company-by-company search for complaints, visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' website, naic.org.

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