Making a home insurance claim can feel daunting, but after you suffer residential loss or damage from (for example) a fire or flood, your financial future may depend on it. Home insurance is designed to help you through a crisis and pay for the expenses that come in the aftermath of a loss. It’s more than just coverage for the costs of repairs for the damage done to your home. Your policy can also help cover the costs of replacing lost and damaged belongings; as well as the increase in everyday living expenses that add up when you’ve lost the use of your home (such as temporary shelter costs and even additional food costs).
Who Can Help You with the Home Insurance Claim Process?
You don’t have to go through the home insurance claim process alone – and in some cases, it’s best that you don’t. There are a few professionals who you can hire to walk you through the process and help you evaluate how to get the most out of your home insurance claim. There are both public adjusters and home insurance claims lawyers.
The insurance company has or hires an insurance adjuster to evaluate the claim and advise them of their evaluation (what they should be responsible for paying). They may work independently or for the insurer, but ultimately, they are paid by and will do what is in the best interests of the insurer.
By contrast, public insurance adjusters and home insurance claim lawyers work for and represent you. The difference between the two is what they’re able to do. Both can evaluate your claim and help you negotiate with the insurance company, but a public adjuster cannot represent you beyond the negotiation or appraisal phase, should the negotiations fail. That’s something only a lawyer can do, though there are other benefits to hiring a lawyer as well, such as deeper legal knowledge and understanding of contracts.
What you should look for is a law firm that specializes in flood and fire insurance claims. A handful of firms like Virani Law can provide the experience needed to help you during the insurance claims process.
When Should You Hire a Home Insurance Claims Lawyer?
It is your responsibility to pay your representative in the claims process, so not all claims are worth hiring someone. However, there are a few signs you should hire help with your claim:
- You’re dealing with a large claim in the tens of thousands of dollars (over $25,000 at least);
- You sustained partial loss, i.e., only part of your home was damaged, which may lead to disagreements about how much of the home needs to be replaced, and require you to document possessions that survived the fire and whether they are salvageable. It can be costly to salvage furniture from smoke damage;
- A family member was injured or killed in the fire. Spending days at the hospital, processing grief, or making arrangements may mean you don’t have the time or mental space to handle your claims process and it helps to have someone else handle the details – this is especially important since delays in the progress of your claim might work against you when it comes down to final settlement figures;
- You’re struggling to understand the language of your home insurance policy, or you’re too busy to file a claim and thoroughly provide the information needed to satisfy the insurer’s demands; or
- Your insurance company is moving too slowly, not evaluating your loss promptly, not communicating, or you have a disagreement about their offer.
Hiring someone to help you with the claims process can help you maximize your settlement, reduce the stress of making a claim, and give you time to process grief if needed.
How Do Public Adjusters Get Paid?
Insurance claims lawyers and public adjusters might work for a percentage of your settlement. For example, 10 percent of the value of your ultimate claim or settlement.
Some firms may cap the dollar amount of their fee, with the maximum often depending on their experience in the industry.
If you have already received an offer from the insurance company that you feel is unfair, they may charge their fee as a percentage of what you receive above and beyond the initial settlement offer. This type of payment is called an overage basis, and while the percent may be higher, it means that getting the help of an adjuster or home insurance lawyer will never reduce the amount of money you already have to repair your home and/or replace lost belongings.
How Can a Professional Help with Your Claim?
Since public adjusters and insurance claims lawyers get paid out of your settlement with the insurer, you want to know that they can actually help and improve the value of your claim. Filing a claim takes a lot of work.
In order to file a claim, you will have to:
- Contact your insurance company and let them know about the loss in writing – this should be done quickly to get the process started;
- Request your long-form policy with all of the details of your policy, which you will then have to review for your coverage limits, insured perils, and any other conditions;
- Document the extent of the damage and lost belongings – you should also do your best to compile photos from before the loss for comparison and proof of loss;
- Document the claims process and keep records of your communications with the insurer;
- Request a cash advance, especially if you have lost the use of your home and are paying for hotels, storage, etc.; and
- Track expenses related to loss of use of your home, in addition to those for a cleanup and salvage belongings.
Here’s how an adjuster or lawyer can help:
- Explaining what your insurance policy means, decoding the legalese in your contract and making sure you understand your coverage limits, deductibles, and conditions;
- Identifying issues that the company adjuster may have neglected and not recommended be covered in your settlement;
- Negotiating claims with the adjuster where you have a legitimate claim that the insurer did not recognize in their offer;
- Maximizing the claim with proper documentation and information; and
- Making sure insurance companies take you seriously if you disagree with their offer.
In the wake of a loss, getting professional help with your home insurance claim can be a weight off your shoulders. A public adjuster or home insurance lawyer can help you receive a larger settlement and take care of much of the paperwork and stress that goes into the process.