The Valley fire was one of the most destructive in California history – and unfortunately in these times of suffering, many homeowners could be victimized a second time by their insurance companies.
While having homeowners’ insurance may give you comfort in knowing that you have an insurance company to help you, particularly in situations like these, the sad truth is that some insurance companies are going to act in bad faith.
Because the catastrophic valley fire has left more than 1500 area families homeless, insurance companies are being inundated with an influx of claims – and rightfully so. The victims of this devastating fire need help getting back on their feet, and that’s exactly what insurance is supposed to provide.
We have created this page to help you the homeowners who have lost homes in the Valley Fire to be able recognize Bad Faith if it happens, and know how to get help!
At the Law offices of J.Chrisp we have a wait and see attitude when it comes to trusting the insurance companies dealing with claims from the Valley Fire damage to homes on Cobb, in Middletown, and in Hidden Valley Lake.
No matter how friendly an insurance representative is, and no matter how comforting their television commercials are, insurance companies are not “good neighbors.” They’re in the business of making money, and in order to preserve their profitability, they often strive to pay out as little as possible.
After many recent natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and Hurricane Katrina the insurance companies couldn’t help themselves and acted in bad faith repeatedly against their insureds. The Insurance industry faced thousands of lawsuits from their insureds for acting in Bad Faith.
So we think the best advice is “trust but verify.” You don’t need to run out and hire an attorney because until you have attempted to work with your insurance company you don’t know how they will treat you. What we want to do is educate our community to help those in need understand how to be on the look-out for Insurance bad faith if it happens during claims made from the Valley Fire.
Insurance companies owe a duty of good faith and fair dealing to their clients. When an insurance company puts it own interests ahead the interest of it’s insured that insurance company may have acted in bad faith.
There are many ways that Insurance companies act in bad faith, but the most common are unfair/low ball evaluations of your property loss and/or failing to pay your claim in a timely manner.
Insurance companies must fairly and timely adjust your claim, which means they must pay you a fair value for your losses and they must do it within a reasonable time. If insurance companies do not, this is the making of a bad faith lawsuit.
Bad Faith usually presents itself when the insurance companies higher insider property loss adjusters who come out and make an unreasonable assessment of the value of your home. When an insurance company offers you a settlement for your property loss you want to understand exactly how they arrived at their numbers, especially if their offer doesn’t seem fair.
Often times the insurance company will rely on inaccurate or out of date actuarial tables, or on outdated or incomparable real estate comps to arrive at their offer. Insurance companies may also use excessive depreciation of your property to lower the replacement value Sometimes, even after their insider property loss adjusters has given a higher value the insurance company will still offer you less without an explanation. They do this because they are a for- profit business so don’t forget it.
Insurance companies make money by investing your premiums in the stock market. Your premiums and the value of the loss of your home earn interest for the insurance company anytime they can delay payment. Sadly this is all too common after disasters like the Valley Fire.
After the insurance company has everything they need to make a fair and reasonable offer, they may drag out making this offer, or give you the run around and delay in paying you promptly. If this happens, and there is no justifiable reason for the delay, this could be bad faith.
It is illegal to violate the terms of your insurance policy, which includes either a direct or implied duty of good faith and fair dealing.” That duty exists even if your policy doesn’t say it; it’s part of every insurance contract. However, this doesn’t mean that the insurance company will be charged with a crime. The only way a consumer can ensure they enforce the right to good faith and fair dealing is with a civil lawsuit should that become necessary.
The state of California has more laws in place to protect insurance policyholders than any other state does, and although they exist, many insurance providers choose to ignore them.
Insurers are not allowed to offer you or force you to accept settlement offers that are unreasonably low. In fact, the insurance company owes you a specific amount of money, and it must be enough to restore your home to its pre-fire condition. You have the right to know how your insurer calculated fair depreciation for your home, as well as how they calculated their settlement offer. In fact you have the right to obtain and review every single document in your claim adjusters file, unless they are claiming a litigation privilege.
Under California Insurance Code Section 2051.5(c) you have the right to receive the value of your home upto the new construction/ disaster replacement value and you are allowed to receive this money and buy or build elsewhere. The amount would be based on your property lost in the fire, but you can take and rebuild anywhere with the money.
Before you sign anything, please allow us to review your policy and the settlement offer you receive from your insurance company. We will do this for no charge and answer any question you have prior to you finalizing any settlement with the insurance company.
Many homeowners don’t realize that they are entitled to much more than the insurance company is willing to offer, and it sometimes becomes necessary for an attorney to read through the fine print to ensure that the insurer is acting in good faith.
Our office takes all cases of insurance bad faith as 100% CONTINGENCY cases. That means you don’t pay anything until we win for you. Our office fee is 33% pre-trial, and 40% at trial. This is standard for all cases we take on contingency. Our office also advances all costs and only collects costs if we win.
In California if an insurance company is found to be in bad faith, then attorney’s fees and “Treble Damages” are allowed. So for example if your home was worth $500,000.00 and you have a $500,000.00 policy, but the insurance company only offers to pay $250,000 without a proper basis, if the jury agreed the property loss was worth $500,000.00 then the judge could triple this damage and your judgement would be for $1,500,000.00. You could recover $900,000.00 minus costs in this situation.
If your insurance company attempts to avoid paying you what is fair under your policy, then it’s time to give us a call. They may be breaching the terms of your insurance policy, and we can help hold them accountable so you can rest easy knowing that you’re covered.
Call us at 1- 877-JCHRISP (1-877-524-7477) right away if you believe your insurance company is acting in bad faith. If it’s easier, you can also contact us online; we’ll get back to you right away, because we understand the urgency of your situation.
Lake County Wildfire news
Death tolls rises in Northern California wildfires http://t.co/YWvrMzWDFS— NBC Connecticut (@NBCConnecticut) September 15, 2015
VIDEO: Fire official describes how rural Calif. town came to be devastated by fast-moving wildfire: http://t.co/A2NPAf9lNE — The Associated Press (@AP) September 15, 2015
The Devastating Effects of the Valley Fire
According to Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire protection, the Valley fire posed unique challenges to firefighters and first responders.
“Ashes, embers would rain down a quarter-, half-mile behind them,” said Berlant. “As fire crews would make progress — hold the fire — it would burn right past them.”
Fires like this one are incredibly rare.
“There aren’t very many fires in California’s history that have done that. I don’t know if there really is a precedent for it. This fire sort-of broke the rules, even relative to this incredible season that’s already occurred,” said Daniel Swain, a Stanford University climate scientist.
The Valley fire churned through several rural towns, leaving devastation in its wake.
You can keep tabs on the Lake County fire by visiting the CalFire website, which is updated as soon as new information becomes available.