I can’t remember the last time I heard about an extreme weather event in West Virgina, but I sure did today. And if you were on any major news network, you probably saw it too. Video footage of an entire home, floating down a swollen river while ON FIRE! It was absolutely remarkable to watch - the power of the water, and the contrast of water and fire. It was just spectacular, but in the worst possible way.
|Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org
Now imagine you are the owner of that home. When you can finally return to your former neighborhood, which could be in just a few days, or it might not be for several weeks, it will be almost impossible to recognize. Street signs could be gone, major landmarks might be missing, and if you can find where your home used to be, we already know the home will not be there. Just a clean slab, next to several other clean slabs. It must be absolutely devastating to the mental state of the family.
For younger children, it might have been the only home they have ever known. For older kids, it might represent their childhood and friends. For the parents, it was where they started their family, and built their lives. And for older folks, it may literally be their entire world. But for all of them, it is time to start over, ready or not, but definitely not by choice.
So where do you start when that is not just something happening on the news, but it is your reality? My suggestion would be to start by reaching out to loved ones. Get help, if at all possible, because you are going to need it. And then, in no particular order, take pictures or video. Grab a pad of paper and start taking notes. List your activities and your expenses. Call your insurance agent and report the claim. Go online and learn what you can about what just happened to you, and what you can expect to go through in the coming months and years (note – I did not bother to include “days” or “weeks”, because that is simply not how you are going to be measuring this journey – sorry, trust me). Figure out what assistance is available to you (Red Cross, FEMA, etc.).
|Image courtesy of flickr.com
And I would always recommend professional insurance claim assistance, but especially in this case, where you have damage caused by flood AND fire. Maybe you have insurance that protects against both flood and fire – it would be great if you did, but you could still use help to determine which policy you would want to use to cover which of the items damaged. Just knowing that could make a significant difference as to what damages you attributed to which policy. This alone could more than pay for the fee charged by the insurance adjuster.
But what if you only had insurance that would protect you against one of the two events (flood and fire)? Then you really are going to need help, because imagine this scenario: you have fire insurance, but your insurance company tells you ALL the damage to your property is caused by flood – even though there is plenty of news footage showing your home floating down the river, fully engulfed in flames. While I don’t think there would be an argument for the slab, or maybe even the flooring, or even the baseboards, I would certainly argue a lot of other items were damaged by fire alone. They could still argue if not for the flooding, there would have been no fire. They could also argue that even if the home never caught fire at all, the home and everything in it, would have eventually been destroyed by the flood. As you might guess, I would take on that fight every day of the week.
Conversely, if you only had a flood policy, but no insurance to cover your home for fire, they could argue the majority of the damage to your home, and the belongings inside, were damaged by fire and not flood. If so, I would simply argue the opposite. Is it wrong that I changed my position just like that? I would say no. My job is to fight for the insurance coverage you paid for, not to accept the exclusions they raise. You paid good money for that insurance coverage, and you certainly did not intend any of your premium to be spent on policy exclusions – those just seem to come free with the policy. So yes, quite plainly and openly, I will fight to find any applicable coverage I can, based on the facts of the loss. In other words, if two homes were floating down the river on fire, and one of them only had flood insurance while the other only had fire insurance, I would argue both should be covered, for opposite reasons. And if that sounds like I “want my cake and eat it too”, I’d counter that cliché with “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!” Anyone who has ever had to wrestle with an insurance company over a claim knows exactly from where I speak.
Once coverage is secured, it is time to start proving your loss. This is going to be difficult as well, since there would be little left to identify, making it difficult to assign a value to it. But it has all been done before. It’s a step by step process, and it does take time, but with the right assistance, you can get back on your feet again. And one day (too long for most people to imagine), you are relocated to a new neighborhood, or your old neighborhood starts to slowly return. Here comes the neighborhood!
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.