This year has been the costliest for wildfires in U.S. history with damages topping $10 billion—and that was before the current fires began in California1.
More than 1,000 structures have been destroyed and at least 25,000 homes are threatened by the raging wildfires in Southern California, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Causing destruction to an area larger than New York City and Boston combined, the total insured losses from natural disasters this year could reach a new record.
As insurance brokers and agents prepare to lend clients support, Insurance Market Source connected with Bill Gatewood, Corporate Vice President, Director, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, for key advice to arm them with.
1. Be Safe
It is essential that brokers advise clients that safety should be the number one priority. Before returning to their homes, clients should check with their local fire officials to ensure it is safe.
Brokers should caution clients of potentially unstable structures and recommend they turn off the main water valve and circuit breaker. This will help minimize damage and prevent potential ignition of sparks or embers.
Clients should not attempt anything that they are unsure of or unqualified to do. If the homeowner can safely mitigate and reduce further damage, brokers should advise their clients to document their actions and retain receipts.
2. Document Damage & Save Receipts
After damage from a wildfire – or any other natural catastrophe such as extreme wind, earthquakes or floods – it is important for clients to document everything. Records of damages can assist during the claims process.
Clients should take photos or video of their home and personal belongings and be sure to not throw anything out until the insurance adjuster has had an opportunity to inspect the damage.
Oftentimes, clients forget to save receipts. If a client is unable to stay at their home because it is severely damaged, brokers should remind them to save all receipts for expenses incurred. Many homeowners policies provide coverage for additional living expenses, however they will need to provide proof of their expenses for reimbursement.
3. Report a Claim
The most important thing the insurance industry does is to help people put their lives back together. It is the entire claims process and value-added services that really count. Brokers should work with clients to report a claim as quickly as possible and help ensure a smooth process.
The devastating Thomas Fire in Ventura County is the fifth-largest blaze in modern California history. In catastrophic situations such as this, brokers and agents can counsel clients on mitigating the effects of the disaster. Homeowners can help decrease their risk of wildfire damage by clearing brush away from their property. Local fire departments often require homeowners take this action in high-risk areas.
Brokers and agents also need to proactively work with their clients in high-risk regions to ensure they have adequate limits for their dwelling, detached structures, contents and additional living expenses in the event of a total loss. Without the proper coverage, homeowners may be responsible for significant repair and replacement costs following a wildfire.
If a client’s property is located in an area where wildfires like these are known to start, standard insurers may choose not to offer or continue coverage. In many cases, surplus lines policies can meet or exceed the coverage offered by a standard carrier and are viable options for hard-to-place exposures.
It is also important to perform occasional reviews of an insured’s homeowners limits as the cost to replace their structures and valuables can drastically change over time.