When to hire a lawyer for a home insurance claim

Key points

  • A home insurance lawyer can help you resolve homeowners insurance claims.
  • Reasons for hiring a homeowners insurance attorney include delays, claim denials and large claims that are in dispute. 
  • Hiring a public adjuster is another option for handling negotiations with your home insurance company to settle a claim. 

Homeowners insurance is designed to protect your investment in your house but filing a claim isn’t always smooth sailing. 

You may need to hire a home insurance lawyer if you’ve hit a wall when negotiating the settlement of a claim with your insurance company. Working with a homeowners insurance lawyer could also make sense if you have a more complex claim or you simply need an expert opinion on how to proceed. 

Here’s how to decide when it makes sense to hire an attorney for a homeowners insurance claim and how to find the right one to work with. 

When is the right time to hire a lawyer for a home insurance claim?

Hiring a home insurance lawyer might seem like an extreme measure, but it could be a necessary step to settle a claim that’s in dispute. 

In terms of the timing, it’s better to contact a home insurance attorney sooner rather than later if you think you’ll need one, said Christopher Roberts, a class action attorney with Butsch Roberts & Associates in Clayton, Missouri. 

“Many people are concerned about hiring a lawyer because of the costs,” said Roberts, but that shouldn’t prevent you from seeking legal counsel if you believe you need it.

Roberts noted that many home insurance attorneys will accept insurance claims cases on a contingency basis. That means they get paid based on a percentage of what’s recovered for the homeowner, rather than charging an upfront fee.  

It’s possible to find home insurance attorneys who are willing to offer a free consultation for home insurance claims. That can help you determine whether you have the makings of a strong case before retaining an attorney. 

Reasons you may hire a home insurance lawyer

Home insurance claims can be tricky and if your claim is denied, or you disagree with the settlement amount, you may want to hire a home insurance lawyer. 

“Insurance companies do not make money by paying out claims,” said Kelly McCann, a real estate attorney with Burnside Law Firm in Portland, Oregon. 

You may need the help of a homeowners insurance attorney if you believe your insurance company is maneuvering to try to deny your claim unfairly or shortchange you.  

“A lawyer can help create risk for the insurance company, which increases the likelihood that it accepts your claim and pays you full and fair compensation,” said McCann. 

Likewise, you might look to a home insurance lawyer for help when there’s a sizable amount of money at stake, unnecessary delays seem to be dragging the claims process out or you’ve run into obstacles proving who is at fault for damages to your home. 

What type of lawyer to hire for an insurance claim

Whether there’s a little or a lot of money at stake, it’s important to work with an attorney who has experience in handling home insurance claims. 

McCann said that includes coverage attorneys who specialize in representing homeowners in disputes with their insurance companies. These lawyers may also refer to themselves as insurance coverage lawyers or insurance law attorneys. 

Asking friends and family for referrals can be a good place to start looking for a home insurance attorney. Even if they’ve never disputed a home insurance claim, their lawyer may be able to connect you with the right person. 

Once you have a few names to work with, Roberts recommends digging into their background a little deeper. That includes checking their track record for cases involving insurance companies and asking the right questions. 

Some helpful questions to consider include:

  • How long has the home insurance attorney been practicing law?
  • What percentage of the cases they handle are real estate or insurance-related?
  • Has the attorney been the target of any ethical complaints or disciplinary actions?
  • How do they charge for their services?
  • What methods of communication do they use and how often do they communicate with clients?

If you’ve hit a dead end in finding a home insurance attorney, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) are two additional resources you might use to connect with a qualified home insurance attorney. 

How to settle an insurance claim

Understanding your home insurance policy and coverage can help you successfully resolve a claim and reach a settlement that you and your insurance company are satisfied with. 

Here are the key steps to filing and settling home insurance claims. 

  • Review your policy. The first thing you’ll need to do is read through your policy to make sure your damages are covered. Your insurance company should be able to answer any questions if you’re unsure what’s covered by the policy.
  • Document your damages. It’s very important to properly document damages to your home when filing an insurance claim. The more evidence you can provide through photographs, video or a detailed inventory of the damages, the more difficult it is for the insurance company to deny the claim. 
  • File the claim. It’s a good idea to file a home insurance claim as quickly as possible after damages occur. Once the claim is filed, you can continue the paper trail by maintaining receipts for any expenses you pay that are related to the damages. For example, if you need to stay at a hotel for an extended period, you’ll want to have receipts showing what you spent. 
  • Review the adjuster’s report. Your insurance company will have a claims adjuster review the damages to your home in order to come up with a settlement amount. At this point, you’ll have to decide whether to accept the settlement or dispute it. 

If the settlement is too low or the claim is denied outright, you may consider hiring a homeowners insurance lawyer or a public claims adjuster. 

“Public adjusters can be a great resource, but not for every claim,” said Roberts. They’re generally more useful for larger claims or situations in which the insurance company is not covering certain damages or attempting to lowball you.  

Roberts says if you’re considering a public adjuster, it’s important to do your research to make sure they’re reputable. Also, keep in mind that public adjusters don’t work for free and you’ll pay a fee for their services (as you would for a home insurance attorney). 

What to expect when settling an insurance claim

Every insurance claim is different and Roberts says that what you can expect from the process ultimately depends on the insurance company, the issues presented by the case and the size of the loss. 

“Some insurance companies are more amenable to resolving disputes at an early stage,” said Roberts. “Others, however, may require a lawsuit to be filed and fight the case in court.”

If you’re working with a home insurance lawyer, they’ll attempt to negotiate a settlement of the claim with the insurance company on your behalf. How much back and forth that requires can depend on how willing the insurer is to settle. 

Your attorney may decide it makes sense to sue your insurance company if it’s not budging on paying you a fair settlement amount. At that point, the insurance could make further attempts to settle the dispute to avoid going to court. 

Keep in mind that if you believe your insurance company is engaging in fraudulent or deceptive practices, you can report them to your state insurance agency or the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). That may not have any impact on the outcome of your claim but it does put the insurer on regulators’ radar. 

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