SMW recently had a client referral – all the way from across the country. An attorney, who is an old friend (going back to SMW patriarch Bruce Swerling’s college days!), had a claim that presented some interesting lessons for homeowners who suffer “burnt out of sight” (BOS) property losses.
In this case, the insureds experienced a bad house fire – everything gone, house burnt to the ground. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of burnt out of sight. Wisely, these homeowners took the advisable first step — they hired a public adjuster. Off to a good start in optimizing the claims process, right?
Not so fast.
Like most homeowners – like all of us, really – these people lead busy lives. They didn’t have time for everything, and they didn’t stay involved in the claims process. When they hired their PA, they thought this professional would do everything, and therefore they could remove themselves entirely from the process.
And this is where things went wrong. The PA did a generalized inventory of lost items and submitted the claim to the carrier, using links (to eCommerce platforms, for example) in support of the inexact pricing for each item. This did not include any original documentation or anything to support the prices affixed to original purchases of the lost personal property.
The carrier did not like this, and ended up requesting an examination under oath. Luckily, SMW was brought in early enough to avoid such a contentious process, but it nearly became a very unpleasant exercise.
This close call highlights a few lessons for anyone undergoing the difficult process of submitting a claim for a property where all of the evidence – i.e., the contents – are literally burnt out of sight. The top takeaways include:
Stay involved. When you lose everything, it’s naturally very difficult. But you can’t just check out and leave the process entirely to your PA. Be an active part of the process.
Document everything. You must be able to list and prove the existence of almost every item before you can begin to recover. Look for records of old purchases, and seek current replacement costs. Assign brand names to everything (and size, for example, when listing appliances such as TVs, etc.) The more details the better! Also ask friends and families if they have pictures from gatherings at your home. The photo of Great Aunt Ida could be evidence of that really expensive painting!
Own the tasks that you can do. If you’ve lost antique and hard-to-price jewelry, you need to go the local jeweler, put together an estimate for each item, and get the jeweler’s name and number (so the carrier can confirm if necessary).
Prepare for scrutiny. If the carrier’s attorney is looking for fraud, they will ask certain questions that you need to be able to answer. Anticipate such scrutiny as you document your claim.
Team up – but stay involved. You can’t go it alone, so hire a PA to manage your claim. At the same time, you can’t simply hire someone and expect them to take care of absolutely everything. Balance your involvement with the expertise you have hired to assist.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to undergo such a daunting process. But if you find yourself managing a claim for a burnt out of sight property, these tips will help ensure that the process goes as smoothly – and productively – as possible.