For over 20 years, I’ve represented homeowners in front of large insurance companies. I spend my days assisting my clients in the preparation, presentation, negotiation, and adjustment of their insurance claims. Today, I’m sharing an experience I had while handling a fire damage claim in Koreatown:
How did you first become involved with this claim?
I was contacted by the homeowners about a fire damage claim after they read my reviews on Yelp. They were a young couple, and they’d recently relocated from another country. The husband was a doctor, and he’d been brought in by the nearby Children’s Hospital to spend a few years working on specialty cases. From the moment they called me, I could tell this was going to be an unusual case.
Why was this situation different from a typical fire damage claim?
Fire damage can come from a variety of sources, including faulty electrical wiring, brushfires, or human error. In this case, unbeknownst to the homeowners, their neighbors had been cooking meth in the house next to theirs. One day, the meth lab exploded, severely burning the nearby homes in the process.
Does the severity of the damage affect the claims process?
After speaking over the phone, I set an appointment to meet with the homeowners. When I arrived to do the walkthrough, I saw that their roof had collapsed and was barely being supported by their first floor. Almost all their possessions were damaged or destroyed. It was clear that the house was uninhabitable.
What happens to the homeowners when the damage is that serious?
We started the claims process that day. While their claim was being processed, the couple relocated to a nearby hotel. When they went back to the home the next morning, they discovered that people had begun looting the property and squatting in the wreckage. Others had even stolen their bikes and some clothing, which the couple managed to capture on video.
Insurance decisions take time, but something had to be done to protect the property. We worked with the corporate adjuster to arrange security measures. The lot had to be fenced in, and an armed guard was stationed there at all hours of the day. The insurer paid for the security.
Did the insurance company pay to relocate the couple?
Initially, the homeowners moved to a hotel and paid for it. After some investigation, the insurance company issued a “loss of use” budget. This budget allowed the homeowners to rent an equivalent house nearby. They rented this home for months because restoring their house was a time-consuming process.
What were the barriers to repairing the home?
The first day I visited the house, I noticed something odd on the side of the house. It turned out that I was seeing carriage doors, left over from an era where carriage passengers would step straight from the wagon bed to the inside of the home. The house was so old, it was considered a historical site.
When a building qualifies as a historical site, there are certain restrictions that must be followed when performing remodels or repairs. At the same time, the existing house was not up to current codes. We needed to bring in a specialist to determine how to meet the building codes while preserving the home’s historical value. As you can imagine, this took a fair bit of negotiating.
How was this case resolved?
After a few months, we finalized a settlement that allowed us to rebuild the house. The homeowners were eager to return to their home. Although the situation was unfortunate, the repairs process had revealed a variety of building code failings in the original structure. In the end, the couple was safer in the remodeled home than they’d been before.
This claim illustrates a fundamental truth about my industry: no two cases are the same. One day I may be dealing with a residential historical site, the next I could be negotiating a business theft loss. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many people, protecting the things that mean the most to them.