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Dealing with a Homeowner's Insurance Carrier who Alleges Arson as a Defense to a Fire Loss

Many Florida homeowners make premium payments amounting to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars over many years to purchase security against unanticipated losses caused by a broad range of perils including fire. While you might be aggravated when your insurance company drags its feet in adjusting and paying your claim, this aggravation can turn to shock if your insurance company accuses you of arson or insurance fraud. Many homeowners are unprepared for the stress and anxiety of such an allegation after enduring the loss of a dream home, valuable furnishings, other personal property and irreplaceable heirlooms.

Unfortunately, the strategy of threatening criminal charges and employing a private fire expert to open an investigation is a common tactic used by insurance companies to avoid paying fire damage claims and to strong arm policyholders into accepting low-ball offers. Our Florida homeowner's insurance claims attorneys have provided some suggestions that an insured can take to undermine this strategy.

Try to Document the Cause of the Fire: The scene following a major structural fire can be chaos and pandemonium, which precludes safely getting close to your home or looking around inside the structure. However, there are situations where the fire only damages certain parts of the building and does not preclude re-entering and investigating. If you know how the fire started, such as faulty wiring, a defective space heater or similar factors, you should take pictures or video footage that provide evidence of the cause of the fire. Although the insurance company has the burden of proof on the issue of whether you started the fire, critical debris and evidence can disappear when the scene is cleaned up and investigated. An insured should make sure to document available evidence that can be used to respond to allegations of arson.

Seek Legal Advice from an Insurance Claims Attorney: While an insurance claims attorney can help policyholders in a broad range of claims disputes, legal representation is especially important when an insurer is alleging misfeasance and/or criminal acts by an insured. The attorney can analyze the fire inspector's report, retain independent experts and review the evidence supporting the insurance company's allegations. Because charges of fraud or arson can expose you to criminal and civil liability, these are not insurance claim defense strategies that any policyholder should attempt to confront without legal advice and representation. If an insured is represented by counsel, an insurer also is less likely to fabricate unmerited criminal charges to intimidate policyholders into giving up or accepting a low-ball offer.

Follow-up with the Insurance Adjuster: Many aggrieved policyholders become frustrated because they struggle to get timely responses and answers from the adjuster assigned to their claim. As a general rule, you should make sure to talk to your adjuster at least once a week while your claim is pending. However, memories can vary greatly regarding the substance of a discussion, so phone calls should be followed up by letters confirming the substance of any telephone call. A record of all such communications should also be maintained indicating the date, time and name of the other party involved in the call.

Create a Video or Photo Catalog of Your Possessions: While you do not have an obligation to "prove" the home furnishings, clothing, kitchenware, jewelry and other personal property that you lost in a fire, the insurance company will certainly ask you to provide documents establishing ownership of items that were destroyed in the fire and their value, including photos, video, receipts, credit card statements, appraisals, and bank statements. While you are only required to provide an itemization of possessions that were damaged or destroyed, a video journal that shows all of the property in the home along with an audio description of the items and their estimated value can make navigating the claims process much less rocky. If you do not have a video camera, a journal with pictures, descriptions, and listed values also will suffice. Even if the insurer does not contend that you were involved in intentionally starting the fire, your insurance company might advance false allegations of insurance fraud by arguing that you did not own listed items or that the value of those items is overstated. If you have video or photo records, the insurance company will have a much more difficult times making such allegations seem plausible.

Greenberg Stone and Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence

If your homeowner's insurance company is acting in bad faith by advancing unfounded claims of arson or fraud to justify denial of your fire damage claim, our Miami Fire Claims Lawyers at Greenberg Stone and Urbano will tenaciously pursue the full compensation you deserve. For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Our skill and dedication has earned us an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

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