Smoke: The Often Overlooked Damage in Fire Insurance Claims

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

Fire insurance claims are common. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that there was an average of 358,000 home fires a year between 2011 and 2015. Moreover, according to the NFPA the leading cause of all home fires results from cooking accidents. This may not come as a surprise, since most people at some time or another forget to turn off their cooking appliances. And everyone has burned something in the kitchen. But fire damage is not the only damage you need to be aware of in fire claims. With fire comes smoke. And smoke has its own damaging, and often latent, effects. You may not be aware of this type of damage. In cases where your neighbor has had a fire, your home may have been impacted by extreme heat or smoke residue without even knowing. Fortunately, most policies have some sort of coverage for smoke damage. The difficult part rests in dealing with your insurance company to cover it.

A typical homeowner’s insurance policy will include fire damage. Fire damage typically includes not just the damage caused by flames, but also damages resulting from exposure to the heat, as well as smoke damage and residues. While smoke damage to your home or structure is covered under your dwelling coverage, smoke damage to your personal belongings, such as furniture, clothes, and other belongings, are protected by your contents coverage.

Whether you will recover, and if so how much, will depend on a number of things such as your policy limits and whether your home is a total or partial loss. The question of whether your home is a total or partial loss is of particular relevance to smoke damage claims. If your home is a total loss, then the entire structure should be replaced up to the extent of your policy limits. However, when your home is a partial loss, detecting smoke damage can be tricky. This is because smoke damage is often hidden, but it may have very damaging and long lasting effects. When smoke damages goes undetected for a long time it can be very harmful to your home or structure, your belongings, and the particulates can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues. Moreover, smoke can leave behind long-lasting odors, and if left untreated it can damage the insulation in your walls as well as other structural components of your home.

Although smoke damage is typically covered in your homeowner’s insurance policy, a usual point of contention between and insurer and an insured is the type of remedy that will be provided. For example, sometimes smoke damage can simply be cleaned off of the item it has affected, but other times the smoke has caused so much damage that the item must be replaced. If the item is not very expensive, then the insurance company may prefer to replace the item, however, if the item is of value, then the insurance company may prefer to have the item cleaned. However, the purpose of insurance is to return you, the insured, to the position you were in before the covered event occurred. Although your insurance company may prefer to clean an item, the smoke damage may be engrained into the item and it may not truly ever return to its pre-damage state.

Another point of contention that often arises in the context of smoke damage claims is the type of inspection that will be conducted. Because smoke damage may not be visible to the naked eye, the true extent of the damage caused by smoke and heat often requires an expert to conduct a thorough inspection of your home and your belongings. However, insurance companies typically send out adjusters that are not experts in the area of smoke damage to investigate the extent of the smoke damage. The adjuster may not realize that the smoke has caused additional structural damage and the problem may remain latent for some time. By the time you discover the damage it may be too late to file the claim, or your insurance company may claim that the damage was caused by something else. At the same time, experts are expensive and your insurance company probably will not want to spend the money on proper testing. This puts you at a severe disadvantage because you are often left to decide whether you want to go out of pocket on the proper testing, or rely on the insurance company’s cursory inspection only to have the damage become apparent sometime later.

Just because your smoke damage is not readily apparent, you should not let your insurance company put you at a disadvantage. If your damages are real and your insurance policy covers it, then you may consider seeking a professional to help you through the claims process. As a general rule of thumb, the less obvious your damage is, the more likely it is that your insurer is going to deny your claim or give you a lowball estimate. Even if the damage is very real, the insurance adjuster may simply report no visible damage after a cursory inspection. If you let this go unchallenged then you may get stuck footing the bill for smoke damage down the line. If you feel like your insurance company is not taking your claim seriously contact an attorney to help you get the proper treatment you are contractually entitled to. After all, wasn’t that the point of paying your insurance premiums every month?

You can reach Miami Fire Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].

Sources

http://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/Fires-by-property-type/Residential/Home-Structure-Fires

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