A natural disaster of any kind can dramatically change your life, and the unprecedented fire that is raging through Northern California is no exception.
Thousands of businesses and houses have been damaged or destroyed, while the forest fires continue to incomprehensibly devastate the region.
The road to recovery will be long and difficult. However, if you or your family are affected by a fire, you know that there are aid organizations, lawyers, and other advisors here to help you.
This week we met with two lawyers, C. Mario Jaramillo and Martin Kaufman, who were involved in a number of California fire-related cases.
We asked these experienced lawyers what steps to take if you were affected by the fire.
Rocket Lawyer: There are many people who were driven out by the Napa fires. Many are overwhelmed by what to do. What should be the first steps someone takes when they are safe?
Martin: The very first step is to start the very painful process of creating an inventory. It is difficult to start, but at the end of the day it is important to remember that it is a business decision to reconcile your life. In order to provide their insurance companies with as much detail as possible, people need to inventory all of their belongings – including spoons, kitchen utensils, socks, clothing, family heirlooms, photos, cars and even the contents of the garage.
Mario: You don't want to discount what you have and say, "I don't want to claim this or that item" because the insurance company doesn't see it that way. Your view is whether it is covered or not and what the dollar amount is.
Rocket Lawyer: What damages can you claim if you are the victim of a fire?
Martin: It is a complex question. There is a multitude of different types of damage, but in my opinion it is the bigger damage for the small ones: deaths, injuries and property damage, of course.
Property damage usually occurs in these cases in the form of objects that are not insured but can be proven. There are so many types of insurance policies out there; so many different types of cover that people pay for and buy. Many people don't understand what they actually have.
It is very common that people who take out home insurance are usually underinsured or not at all. This means that the insurance you pay for may not cover all or any damage depending on the situation.
Rocket Lawyer: How are insurance claims for a house, car, business, or other property damaged by fire, smoke, or water as a result of the fire?
Martin: There are two ways to reach your insurance provider:
1] Have a direct insurance agent or contact. This person is a good permanent contact person. You have easy access to your policies, covers, and declaration papers that show you everything that's covered.
2] If you do not have a contact person, you can contact the insurer directly by phone. You can also document what is happening by email, fax or letter. If you know your insurance number, you can write to the carrier and let them know that you have suffered some fire damage, that you intend to make a claim, and that you are seeking coverage under your policy for now.
Rocket Lawyer: What steps should you take to ensure that your damages are fair and covered by your legal rights?
Martin: Hire a lawyer or competent legal advisor who will understand what it is like to pursue a claim against an insurance company or possibly a third party for damages. Much of the damage, such as B. Property damage is covered by the policy, but much of the damage is not, and this is very common.
Rocket Lawyer: Do You Still Have To Pay Your Mortgage / Rent / Car License?
Martin: Yes. Unfortunately, in these situations, the obligation regarding a mortgage, vehicle registration and leasing contracts remains. Just because this has happened does not mean that the commitments stop. For this reason, it is important to inform the insurance company immediately of the loss.
Rocket Lawyer: If pets were injured in the fire, does your insurance pay for veterinary treatment?
Martin: Insurance coverage really matters. Unfortunately, the answer in most cases is no. Animals are considered property. So if an animal is killed or injured, the maximum recovery is that animal's dollar value.
Rocket Lawyer: Are there tax breaks for fire victims?
Martin: There can be. There may be certain emergency relief measures and tax breaks. You should speak to a tax expert about how to deal with losses from a fire in tax returns.
Rocket Lawyer: If you need temporary accommodation after your eviction, do you need to sign a lease?
Mario: This would be a private negotiation with the landlord and would depend on the landlord. I would recommend making a monthly temporary accommodation agreement so the tenant can get out within 30 days. Ask for a short-term lease or a two-week notice period instead of a 30-day notice period. You don't want to do anything in the long term and get stuck in a lease if you have the opportunity to return to your home.
Martin: There are many good insurance policies, but you have to pay for them. If you have basic insurance, temporary accommodation may not be offered. It is very important that you read your policy documents to know what you have covered.
Rocket Lawyer: What other legal documents should you prepare or replace after a fire?
Mario: All legal documents should be revised: estate plans, marriage certificates, birth certificates. For every legal document you have, you should have more than one copy. You should have them in the cloud, in a fire box, or in other secure storage areas.
Martin: As a preventive measure, I would recommend having a fire box for your documents.
Rocket Lawyer: What have you learned from representing other fire victims?
Martin: Be patient. It's a long process that will be an emotional roller coaster ride. The most important step is to find a lawyer who is holding your hand. It is important to have a knowledgeable lawyer who understands what information needs to be provided and what documents need to be submitted.
Rocket Lawyer: What should people ask but maybe not think about immediately after this tragedy?
Martin: You have to think about your inventory – the entire inventory. You need to go through each room and make a detailed list of all the items in that room. Always come back to it, because you will remember things you did not think about a few days earlier.