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California Wildfires: The Public Adjuster Perspective

This week, I’m taking a break from my case study series to share my perspective on the recent wildfires that ravaged California. In November of 2018, the Woolsey, Hill and Camp wildfires destroyed an estimated 1.8 million acres of land. These fires left behind multiple civilian and firefighter fatalities, in addition to countless destroyed homes. With many families still displaced, others turn their attention to the future, and to restoration.

Here’s what many of you are currently experiencing, and the challenges that face our community in the coming months.

What are the fire victims experiencing?

In the first week, everyone is in shock. You’re just trying to find your footing.  Families may have the rug pulled out from under them, sometimes losing their home and all their belongings. If you remain in the affected area, the next problem is the smoke. Living in close contact with this kind of smoke is a serious health hazard. It often causes headaches and nausea, and some people can experience personality changes. Before you even begin the insurance process, your first priority should be finding a safe place to stay. There’s nothing more important than your health.

When will the victims start to rebuild their lives?

The process is different for everyone. Whether you’ve lost your home completely or you just have partial damage, your whole life has been changed. Remember that you don’t have to rush through the claims process. While other insurance professionals may tell you that you should file as quickly as possible, take this with a grain of salt. Of course, you shouldn’t wait for months to contact your insurance provider, but you’re also not going to lose money from your settlement by taking a few days or even a week to gather more information. I always recommend that people get away from the affected area while they regroup. This helps you to avoid exposure to black carbon.

What is black carbon?

Aside from the blaze itself, it’s one of the most harmful components of wildfires. Black carbon is an airborne climate pollutant that traps heat. It contributes to general air pollution and global warming, and it’s also a human health hazard. Black carbon is known to cause respiratory tract infections and cardiovascular system failure. Since the particles are airborne, people near the site of the fire can breathe in harmful levels of the substance.

Can homeowners avoid exposure to black carbon?

The problem with black carbon is that insurance companies are slow to recognize its negative effects. Individual corporate adjusters may not be informed about the health risks, leading them to overlook potential long-term health ramifications. I always advise that homeowners take their own precautions, rather than just relying on the guidance of their provider. If you’re concerned about air quality, NASA uses satellites to track black carbon movement. Typically, you can look up that information to help ensure the safety of your family during the claims process.

Do you recommend hiring a public adjuster for wildfire insurance claims?

I think that is a personal decision for each homeowner. At Avner Gat Inc., we won’t take clients for wildfire insurance claims in the first month after the fire. People are often confused when I say this, at least until I explain the reasoning behind the decision.

When you’re dealing with wildfires, you have dozens if not hundreds of families who have lost their homes. In total loss cases, the insurance company is going to come and evaluate the damage. When everything is in order, they’ll hand over a lump sum settlement. The homeowner shouldn’t really need us in cases like these.

I believe in giving back to the community. My team is always happy to give advice and consultations to those who are suffering from the wildfires. We’ll even recommend estimators, contractors and restoration professionals! The one thing that we won’t do is take a cut of a total loss case. These situations are difficult enough. We feel it’s our responsibility to answer all the questions that come our way, without asking for anything in return.

Does that mean that wildfire cases never require a public adjuster?

While there are some exceptions, the truth is, most total loss wildfire cases don’t need additional representation. The damage is clear and indisputable, as is the language in your insurance policy. For my team, refusing these cases is a matter of principle. We want to do everything in our power to help our community in these situations, and we invite everyone to contact us for our expertise.

This is a trying time for many of you, and I wish you an easy and fast recovery. Feel free to contact me on my personal line at (818) 917-5256 if you have any additional questions.

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