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Sonoma County Gazette
Burned Home

Getting Help After the Fire

Nov 21, 2017


By Eric Carlson

The impact of a specific traumatic event, such as a fire, has life-changing repercussions. The questions that often arise is what can the various support services do for those whose life-course is damaged. We all can see the visual damages from the fires, however this community waits while agencies such as CalFire complete their investigations to state the theories of causation. The reports from these investigations will provide some answers that are part of the keys to the process for the provision of benefits.

While cogs of these agencies turn hopefully in unison, the citizens that are experiencing the very personal effects of this disaster are waiting for monetary relief. For those lucky enough to have fire insurance, the first question that should be asked is: what is my insurance carrier going to do for me now? 

There is an implied obligation of good faith and fair dealing between the parties to an insurance contract. In the context of this relationship, an insurance carrier must act reasonably. Some duties defined under the California statutes and case law which an insurance carrier shall perform are:

to inform an insured party of their rights;

to properly investigate the claim;

to accept a reasonable settlement offer;

to pay a covered claim.

The fire victims that are working with any insurance carrier, including a third party’s carrier, should always understand that an insurance company is governed by specific laws, regulations, and contracts. In other words, it is never personal between a highly regulated corporate payer and a private citizen. Further, the persons who work for carriers are licensed and trained in the definitions, terms, and duties such as what defines “good faith,” while fire victims are not.   

One option all fire victims have when working with an insurance carrier is to hire an attorney. All purchasers or legal services should take the time to educate themselves about the different types of attorney-client fees arrangements. This will dispel some stereotypes such as an attorney will cost an arm and a leg.  

Also, there are reputable legal services available such as Legal Aids for those who lack resources.  Those in the process of collecting benefits should also be wary of persons illegally practicing law or those providing legal services without a license. 

It is important to understand the relationship with an attorney, including cost, is directly driven by the contract between the parties. A specific narrow cost-effective service an attorney can provide is drafting of forms. An attorney can attempt to shape the statements of the victim into language that creates a greater probability a carrier may pay. All lawyers are trained to remind their clients that even after hiring an attorney there is never a guaranteed outcome.

Remember that insurance companies are corporations with procedures, rules, and laws to follow. They are not human beings with whom you can tell your story and hope they respond as people who care. Yes, there is always a human on the other end of the phone, however, the procedures that person has to follow to keep his/her job are not designed to be compassionate for your plight. They problem-solve, so stick to the facts, make sure you have every document you need to get compensated for your losses, and if you feel insecure about your ability to handle these complexities on your own, hire or seek professional help.

Eric Carlson is an attorney practicing in Santa Rosa, He can be reached at 707-921-7222,


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