Fire and Smoke Damage Claims
A fire can be the most devastating loss you will ever encounter in your life. In addition to an enormous amount of property damage, often irreplaceable items or memorials, paintings, art pieces, photos, wedding albums, letters and other personal items are destroyed or lost in a fire. Haahr Law Group has personal knowledge as to how the insurance companies often investigate fire losses in order to minimize or avoid compensation of the loss. To make things worse, while going through a devastating loss, you as the policyholder should expect the insurance company to investigate whether the fire was due to arson by you or on your behalf. The focus will be whether they can assert you were somehow involved with setting the fire.
The insurance company will likely hire a cause and origin fire expert before even sending an adjuster to inspect the property and damage. The expert is hired under the pretense of finding the cause of the fire, but often the real reason is to determine if the insurance company can assert the fire was due to arson by the insured. Arson is generally the only coverage defense to a fire. At Haahr Law Group we have personal experience in dealing with a fire loss. In a fire loss investigation you will often encounter the following issues:
- The insurance company’s failure to timely and thoroughly investigate the claim
- Delay in determining amount and payment of damages
- Undervaluation of the damages
- Allegations or insinuations as to arson or fraud
- Attendance at recorded statement and examination under oath
- Dispute as to valuation of damages and lowball settlement offers
- Dispute as to structural damage by heat as to block or concrete foundation, walls or other structural elements of the property
- Failure to determine the loss was a total loss and payment of the full policy under Florida’s Valued Policy Law (Fla. Stat. section 627.702).
Smoke Damage Claims
In any fire there will be a tremendous amount of smoke damage. Often you will encounter smoke damage disputes with the insurance company when facing a fire loss. Smoke damage to walls, ceilings, floors, furnishings, or cloth is extremely difficult to clean not only due to both soot, the residue left by smoke, and charring, the burning of the paint but also due to odor. Often the soot, charring or smoke odor in walls, ceilings, carpets, draperies, furnishings, cloth, etc. cannot be completely removed. This can leave you in a fight with the insurance company for removal and replacement of these items.
Fires can burn so hot that it will affect the load bearing capacity of structural bearing elements. Fire damage to wood is generally easy to observe, but the loadbearing capacity of other building materials from fire damage is often more difficult to determine. Bricks and hollow clay building materials are more sensitive to thermal shock than block walls. Thermal shock can cause cracking or expanding of the building materials reducing the load bearing capacity. With concrete or block walls you can often see the degree of heating based on the change in color of the mortar and bricks. Black walls (Soot remaining on the surface) indicates lower fire temperatures. At higher temperatures, soot burns away without leaving deposits and therefore extremely high temperatures are indicated by a white chalky surface on the block. Mortar which has been subjected to heat becomes soft and decreases in strength.
Property owners may face difficult challenges dealing with the insurance company when they are assessing the damage to structural elements of their property. Often the insurance company will not retain qualified engineers or refuse to pay for a proper investigation and testing of the structural integrity of the remaining building. These types of issues often will lead to disputes relative to whether the fire caused a total loss. At Haahr Law Group we can assist the policyholder with these issues and provide the help they need to rebuild their homes or businesses.
If you have a pending or denied fire or smoke damage claim, please contact us for a free consultation.