Insurance tips for wildfire victims - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Insurance tips for wildfire victims

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Released by Alex Winslow with Texas Watch:

TIPS FOR RECOVERING AFTER A FIRE
DOs and DON'Ts When Dealing with Your Insurance Company

 

Wildfires have swept across our state, destroying homes and upending thousands of lives. Texas Watch is a non-profit citizen advocacy group dedicated to helping homeowners. Here are some tips for families and policyholders when dealing with their insurance company.

 

Demand that your insurer hold up its end of the deal.

You have paid your hard-earned premiums for years, hoping you'll never have to use the insurance policy you purchased. But now that day has unfortunately come. Make sure that your for-profit insurance carrier honors all of its obligations and strictly follows the law during your time of need. There are laws on the books requiring carriers to treat policyholders fairly and pay promptly. If you have any question as to whether a carrier is dragging its heels, strong-arming, or low-balling you, seek legal advice.

 

Understand what you're signing. Ask questions until you understand.

Never sign any documents that release your legal claims unless it is truly your intent to do so. Do not deposit any checks from insurers that have "settlement" written anywhere on them unless you have all of the facts about the value of your loss and are completely satisfied with the amount. Otherwise, you may inadvertently sell yourself short.

 

Take notes and document everything you can.

Try, at once, to make a list of your possessions. If at all possible and as soon as you can, obtain a repair estimate from a trusted local contractor to use as a guide in talking with the insurance company's adjuster. Keep receipts from emergency repairs and any costs you incur in temporary housing. This may be reimbursable under the "loss of use" portion of your homeowners' policy.

Keep a journal of all of your contact with or attempts to contact your insurance company. If they will not return your phone calls, fail to show at a scheduled appointment, or even if they are rude to you, write this down in a notebook. Log every conversation that you have with them. This could come in handy if you need to file a complaint or later need to talk to an attorney.

 

Ask for proof.

If your insurance company tells you that your policy does not cover the damage that occurred or you feel that the offer is too low, ask for proof. The burden is on them to point out the part of your policy that states what they are saying is correct.

 

Beware of fly-by-night contractors.

When you are looking to rebuild, only use a contractor with good references and an established presence in the area. Make sure to call those references and don't be afraid to ask tough questions when checking the contractor out. Also, be sure to look into online consumer recommendation services to get reviews of contractors and other professionals. Ask the contractor in writing if he's ever been sued for shoddy construction or payment disputes. Price several contractors, aggressively negotiate terms and deadlines, and do not sign any contracts that are front-loaded or force you into arbitration, which strips you of your constitutional right to trial.

 

Additional Resources

Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel:

1-877-611-6742 (OPIC) or http://www.opic.state.tx.us/

 

Consumer Bill of Rights (Texas Department of Insurance): http://www.tdi.texas.gov/commish/rights.html

 

State Bar's Lawyer Referral Information Service:
1-800-252-9690 or http://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Lawyer_Referral_Service_LRIS_

 

These tips are for general informational purposes only and are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.

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