California lawyer Jonathan Stein, is a San Diego lawyer who is putting his money where his mouth is– he is offering FREE legal services to Californians who are having problems with their own insurance companies following the devastating wildfires. It’s bad enough to lose your home and all your possessions but it’s horrible to then be jerked around by your own insurance company to whom you have paid insurance premiums for many years….. Jonathon has recently posted a Top Ten Tips list for those who have lost their homes or other property to the fires. While Jonathon wrote his list is for the California fire victims, most of his tips apply equally to homeowners in any state. I STRONGLY urge you to read these tips before you have a loss:

  1. Document your structure loss. Take pictures or video of the damaged area. If you know what was there, talk on the video camera. If you are taking still pictures, then write down what was damaged. Example: “The outside of the house had siding, painted 5 years ago, brown.”
  2. Document your personal property loss. Take pictures or video of any damaged/destroyed personal property. Put the details on the tape or write it down. Example: “Nintendo Wii, purchased Jan. 2007 for $400 at Target.”
  3. Call your insurance company. They are going to be inundated with claims. Be patient, but expect a fairly quick response because the insurance companies are sending tons of adjusters into the area. Give them whatever details you have.
  4. Walk through your damage with the adjuster. Do not let him/her do it himself or herself. You need to walk through the damage and tell them what was damaged, as descriptively as possible.
  5. Ask for an estimate within 24 hours. If you have structure damage, make sure you call a contractor. WARNING: Call a licensed contractor ONLY. If you are solicited by a contractor, ask for the license number and look it up at the Contractor’s State License Board website.
  6. Compare your estimate with the insurance company’s estimate. Remember, their estimate is not gospel. You are entitled to have any licensed contractor complete the repairs. If the estimates are different, tell the adjuster to work out the differences with the contractor. And yes, prices will be higher, but that is the insurance company’s problem, not yours.
  7. For personal property, start replacing your items and KEEP YOUR receipts. If you have a replacement cost policy, they owe you the cost to replace the damaged items with similar items. If you have an actual cash value policy, then you get the depreciated amount. (Do not let them write down everything that was damaged and take a set depreciation amount. Each item has to be depreciated individually.)
  8. If you have to move into a hotel, keep your receipts. The insurance company owes you for the lodging plus an increase in food expenses and any other expenses incurred as a result of the loss. (Hint: When they ask you to estimate your pre-loss food expenses, do not overestimate this. It will hurt you at time of reimbursement.)
  9. Do not let the adjuster bully you around. Do not let the adjuster tell you that your loss is not covered. If they deny your claim, make them put it in writing. If they tell you something that you do not understand, ask for it in writing.
  10. Do not sign anything unless and until you fully understand it. Make sure you know what you are signing. And if you do not, get help from someone.