CALIFORNIA, December 14, 2017 —The Thomas fire, the fifth largest wildfire in California’s history, continues to rage through the southern part of the state but the property insurance claims process has already begun in neighborhoods where the fires have been extinguished, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
“Insurance adjusters, catastrophe personnel and mobile claim centers have been deployed to staging areas in various parts of Southern California to respond to customers impacted by the latest disaster,” said Janet Ruiz, the I.I.I.’s California-based representative.
If your home, apartment or business has been either damaged or destroyed by the wildfires, here’s what you need to know about filing an insurance claim, how the claim filing and settlement process works, and what’s covered under standard homeowners, renters, business owners and auto insurance policies:
1. Start the claims process as soon as possible
Be prepared to give your insurance professional—either an agent or insurance company representative—a description of the damage to your property and a copy of your home inventory, if you have one. Your insurance professional will report the loss immediately to your insurer or to a qualified adjuster who will contact you to arrange an inspection of the damage. Make sure you give your agent a telephone number, preferably a cellphone, where you can be reached.
2. Contact your insurance professional immediately
When starting the claims filing and settlement process, find out:
3. Learn what’s covered
The “declarations page” of your policy shows the 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 “endorsements” or extra coverages listed on your declarations page. Insurance policies are not all the same, so ask your insurance professional any specific questions you have about the type of policy and amount of coverage you have.
Homeowners and Renters
Damage caused by fire and smoke is covered under standard homeowners, renters and business owners insurance policies and under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. Water losses, or damage caused by fire fighters while extinguishing a fire, is also covered under these policies. The California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan Association, the state’s property insurer of last resort, covers a portion of the residential and commercial properties located in brush and wildfire areas.
Standard homeowners 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/ALE typically covers hotel bills, restaurant meals and additional expenses that come about when an insured property is uninhabitable. Most policies provide this coverage for up to 20 percent of the amount of insurance provided on the house.
A typical homeowners policy will cover damage to trees, shrubs and plants up to 5 percent of the dwelling limit on your policy. 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 Dwelling (“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 either a BOP or CMP and provides coverage for:
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 U.S. drivers (78 percent) in the U.S. opted to purchase comprehensive coverage as of 2013, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).
Rebuilding homes and communities after a widespread loss can take at least 18-24 months. 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.
THE I.I.I. IS A NONPROFIT, COMMUNICATIONS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED BY THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY.
Insurance Information Institute, 110 William Street, New York, NY 10038; (212) 346-5500; www.iii.org