Frequently Asked Questions

 

The following questions and answers are drawn from experience, but should not be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique.  See DISCLAIMER.

My home or business burned down. Do I need a lawyer?

Maybe, maybe not. Many claims are handled without significant conflict. When the claim seems delayed, or the company adjuster becomes evasive, you may need a lawyer. Some danger signs:

  • Your insurer hires a lawyer to direct the adjustment.
  • Your insurer wants to take your examination under oath.
  • Your insurer sends you a reservation of rights letter.
  • Your insurer asks you to sign a non-waiver agreement.
  • Your insurer changes adjusters, again.
  • The adjuster won't provide direct answers to direct questions .
  • The adjuster won't give you copies of investigation reports.
  • The adjuster removes evidence from the scene without your permission, or without explaining the need for evidence.

Why are they picking on me?

Good question. Did someone say something about you?  Is an ex-spouse or enemy saying things to an adjuster?  Are you an ethnic minority, gay, in some kind of trouble? Financially strapped? These are all classic reasons for the adjuster to mistrust you.  When that happens, you may have problems.

Is this fair?  Is it right?  Can they do this?  Of course not, but they do, every day.  

Sometimes the adjuster finds evidence which points to arson.  Gasoline or kerosene traces where they shouldn't be.  A fire which shouldn't be where it apparently was.  Evidence that suggests multiple points of origin -- several small fires starting in different parts of the building.  These are factors which can suggest arson.  

When suspicion starts, it seldom stops.  The adjuster brings in the SIU  investigator.  These people only get called when the adjuster has suspicions.  They come on the scene thinking the insured is guilty.  Good luck dealing with these guys.

Did you burn down your house to collect the insurance?  If so, you are screwed. They will catch you and put you where you belong.  Don't call me.  I don't want anything to do with you.

How should I choose a lawyer? 

Look for experience in cases like yours. Few attorneys have much experience in property insurance, fire claims, or arson accusations. An inexperienced lawyer can do more harm than good.

Why not get some help in choosing your lawyer? Go to your personal or business lawyer; he or she can help you find good counsel, and can negotiate the fee arrangements. Usually, your personal lawyer will stay involved in your case, helping the fire specialist.  If you don't have a personal lawyer, do you know anyone who works at the courthouse, or in a law firm?  You can get good info and recommendations from people involved in the law.

You may find that no lawyer in your area has any fire insurance experience at all.  That's OK.  Find a good, honest, local lawyer who can associate with a specialist from out of town.    

Once you locate a potential lawyer, ask some pointed questions:

  • How many cases like mine have you handled?
  • How many cases like mine have you tried to verdict? When?  Where?
  • Who will actually handle my case -- you, a young associate, a paralegal? 
Finally, remember that choosing your lawyer is the most important step in the claim. When you take that step, do it with confidence. Know that you chose the best person for the job, an aggressive, experienced lawyer you like and trust.

If you don't feel confident about your choice, keep looking.

How much will it cost? 

Good lawyers are not cheap. If you know you must file suit and go to war with an insurance company, do two things.  First, hire the best lawyer you can find.  Second, consider a contingent fee agreement. You pay a percentage of the recovery, plus the actual costs. This percentage fee will run somewhere between 25% and 40% of the recovery, depending on the nature of the case and other factors.  Many states have laws that force the insurer to pay your fees if you win.

Consider hourly fees if you just need some consultation and advice, or help with policy requirements. Perhaps you just need some help at the examination under oath. You will pay $300/400 or more per hour, but far less than under a contingent fee agreement.  If you hire a good lawyer by the hour, you will need to pay a retainer, enough money to cover 20 hours or so.  All this varies by area, lawyer, and nature of the case.

Most insurance lawyers will meet, consult, and talk with you at a free initial interview. A short email is a great way to get started. 


 
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Copyright 2001 Gary Williams. All rights reserved.

This site does not give legal advice.  See Disclaimer.