The following questions and answers are
drawn from experience, but should not be
considered legal advice. Every situation is
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
- Your insurer hires a lawyer to direct
- Your insurer wants to take your
examination under oath.
- Your insurer sends you a reservation of
- Your insurer asks you to sign a
- Your insurer changes adjusters, again.
- The adjuster won't provide direct
answers to direct questions .
- The adjuster won't give you copies of
- The adjuster removes evidence from the
scene without your permission, or without
explaining the need for evidence.
Why are they picking on
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
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:
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
- How many cases like mine have you
- How many cases like mine have you tried to
verdict? When? Where?
- Who will actually handle my case -- you,
a young associate, a paralegal?
If you don't feel confident about your
choice, keep looking.
How much will it cost?
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.