When My House Burned Down: My Story

When my house burned down

The Shock

I remember standing across the street from my home watching as the firemen put out the flames.

My neighbors were offering their condolences and their help. Half a dozen public adjusters were parked on the street waiting to pepper us with their sales pitch that, unless we hired them, the insurance company would rip us off. Some offered us kickbacks of thousands of dollars (a sales tactic which is illegal, by the way).

But at that moment I was numb to all of it, because I had no idea what the extent of the damage was.

Investigated for Arson

The firemen approached me, “are you the owner of the house?” They asked me to come with them. At the time I had no idea they were investigating for arson. I didn’t know what caused the fire- I later learned it was the oven short-circuiting despite being off. They gave me a fire hat and we walked the inside, with them asking me to point out all our items of value (removal of items shows prior knowledge of the fire).

When the firemen left, my family and I began putting our lives back together step by step.

Insurance Adjuster Tactics

At this time I thought the insurance company was my friend- they offered us an immediate advance on our settlement of $20,000, and were asking to make sure we were comfortable with rental house options they were offering us. Little did I know, this was one of the adjuster’s tactics to discourage me from hiring legal help (I became a lawyer after this), and which would make me that much more frustrated when his friendliness turned into fighting over every last item in our claim.

The insurance company then provided us an inventory of our personal property.

fire claim inventory

The Fight

My wife took one look and knew it was only half our stuff. We put together our own inventory. At the time, I didn’t understand how fire insurance claim calculation worked. I couldn’t believe how low their estimates were.

If at first I was in denial of the situation, at this point, I became angry.

I’ve always been a fighter. Even before I went to law school I filed a lawsuit against the local military base which was using Lake Michigan to discard lead ammunition from their firing range. But without experience, fighting the insurance company on the litany of items they were undervaluing or insufficiently repairing was a difficult battle. After back and forth on a list of 16 disputed items, they would give in on one thing, only for there to be fifteen more they still refused to address. Then more back and forth.

To make matters more challenging, I had to learn to analyze the insurance company’s estimates not for what was there, but for what wasn’t there. This is a daunting task for someone without relevant experience, and is part of why I recommend people going through the fire claim process to hire an attorney.

The insurance company said they would clean our air ducts containing the soot which was from the toxic smoke from the fire, but would not replace them which would be a lot safer and healthier for my family. The insurance company said they would repair the roof, but wouldn’t replace it altogether, which made it more likely to leak later down the road. 

At the end of this grueling process, I was able to obtain a much more fair settlement than the insurance company originally proposed, and I also found a passion and talent for standing up for people against insurance companies.

What I Learned

I love what I do because I get to fight against the imbalance of power inherent in the insurance company/policyholder relationship.

If you are thinking about making an insurance claim, or have already had your claim denied and are considering legal assistance, fill out my consultation form below, for a risk-free case evaluation, so I can see how I might be able to help you.

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