Case Results

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San Francisco Bay Area, California, Fire and Water Damage Claims Attorney

The information appearing below summarizes the results of some representative fire or water damage claims handled by this firm. The names of the homeowners and of the insurers have been removed to protect their privacy.

NO GUARANTEES

The information presented below, and elsewhere on this website is not intended as a warranty, guarantee or prediction of what the results might be in your case, which will be determined on its own unique facts and circumstances. Results will differ if based on different facts and circumstances.

Though there are some common themes in most of the fire (and water) damage claims handled by this firm, the results in each case are attributable to its own unique facts and circumstances, including the specific terms of each insurance policy, the nature and amount of fire (or water) damage to each home, the insurer involved, the details of the claims handling in each case, the repair bids or estimates obtained, and other facts which vary from case to case. This firm cannot guarantee that your claim can be resolved immediately (resolution of a major fire damage claim usually takes months), nor can this firm predict in advance what the dollar amount of your settlement is likely to be.

Case No. 1: Fire Damage

Insurer's [Dwelling/Building] Offer: $328,578.33
Negotiated [Dwelling/Building] Settlement: $524,832.41

Summary: A fire occurred at a 2-story brick and wood building in San Leandro, CA. The building was "mixed use." Part of the building was used to house a retail business, and the rest of the building was a 2 story apartment occupied by the business owner. The fire caused significant damage to both the commercial and residential areas of the building.

>From the outset, the Insurer underestimated the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs. The building was inspected and a repair estimate was prepared a couple of months after the fire, by (or on behalf of) the Insurer, in the amount of $266,451.08. This estimate was prepared using a software package and pricing databases (hereafter "Symbility") that routinely produced lower repair estimates (thus reducing claims payouts for the Insurer), and which differed from the "industry standard" approach (hereafter "Xactimate") used by most major property insurers. After subtracting depreciation and the policy deductible, Insurer then paid the insured $215,494.01 for the Dwelling/Building portion of the loss. The insured refused to accept this estimate on the grounds that it was incomplete and the pricing of many items was unrealistically low.

Shortly after the fire, the Insured hired a Public Adjuster ("PA") to represent him. The PA prepared (about 4 months after the fire), an [Xactimate] repair estimate, in the amount of $425,422.88, though this repair estimate was largely ignored by the Insurer. Eventually, the Insured and the PA terminated their relationship by mutual agreement, and the PA withdrew.

Insurer eventually, after considerable pressure from the Insured, agreed to meet again at the loss site and reinspect the fire-damaged property. After the re-inspection , Insurer produced (about 5 months after the fire) a revised repair estimate in the amount of $328,578.33, adding many new Line Items to its Symbility estimate. Based on the revised repair estimate, Insurer issued a supplemental payment to the Insured, in the amount of $60,643.31. The Insured was still not satisfied, however, and hired his own General Contractor ("GC") to prepare a competing estimate. The Insured's GC, after inspecting the property, prepared a detailed [Xactimate] repair estimate in the amount of $596,508.09. This estimate was submitted to the Insurer, which was also invited to meet with the Insured's GC at the loss site, to go over parties' respective estimates ($328,578.33 for the Insurer, and $596,508.09 for the Insured), and compare them, in an effort to reach an agreed settlement of the loss. Insurer, however, rejected the invitation to meet and compare estimates, and declined to consider the $596,508.09 estimate, stating that it had already determined the reasonable cost of repair--$328,578.33.

Frustrated at the Insurer's refusal to meet with its GC, or to even consider its $596,508.09 repair estimate, the Insured retained this Office to represent him.

Thereafter, I met with the Insured's GC at the loss site on several occasions, to familiarize myself with the building, as well as the nature and extent of the fire damage; and reviewed the "as built" plans for the building prepared by the Insured's architect; and consulted with the Insured's GC extensively regarding the details of the loss, and regarding the details of his repair estimate (this included review and discussion with the GC of each and every one of the 858 Line Item in his estimate) and consulted with the Insured himself and his architect, regarding the building and the damage; and reviewed the other estimates (from the PA and the Insurer and from another fire restoration Contractor) prepared in connection with this loss; and reviewed the claims history; and extensively photographed the interior and exterior of the property; and studied all available photos, including my own, those taken by the Insured and the Insured's GC, and those taken by or on behalf of the Insurer.

We thereafter met at the loss site for an entire day (myself and the Insured's GC on one side, the assigned claims adjuster and his own GC Consultant on the other side), went through the building together, reviewed and discussed the corresponding Line Items in our respective repair estimates, and worked out agreements on [almost all] disputed items. As a result of this meeting, and some followup communications afterwards, the Insurer (through its GC Consultant) produced a new repair estimate [this time in Xactimate], in the amount $508,233.21. This resulted (after additional depreciation was deducted) in another Supplemental Payment to the Insured of $156,463.48. Shortly thereafter, this amount was supplemented by additional payments of $11,415.20, $4583.66 and $600 bringing the total repair estimate to $508,233.21 + $11,415.20 + $4583.66 + $600.34 = $524,832.41, and the total Supplemental Payment to the Insured to $156,463.48 + $11,415.20 + $4583.66 + $600.34 = $173,062.68. (This did not include a number of "Open" or "To Be Determined" Items that were to be paid later by the Insurer, during or after repairs.)

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

Case No. 2: Fire Damage

Insurer's Original [Dwelling] Offer: $257,231.62
Negotiated [Dwelling] Settlement: $404,375.85
Insurer's Personal Property Offer: $52,237.72
Negotiated Personal Property Settlement: $204,260.00

Summary: A residence in Walnut Creek had previously been enlarged by the construction of a 2-story Apartment, behind and over the top of the attached Garage. A fire broke out upstairs in the Apartment, and spread to the downstairs portion of the Apartment. (Damage to the main residence, to which the Apartment was attached, was negligible.) The fire destroyed the roof of the Apartment, all of the upstairs rooms, and part of the downstairs. Almost all personal property (upstairs and downstairs) in the Apartment was destroyed.

Immediately after the fire, the Insurer contacted a General Contractor (hereafter Insurer's "Preferred GC") to assist in evaluating the Apartment loss. The Insurer then (apparently with the assistance of its Preferred GC) prepared a repair estimate (hereafter "Original Repair Estimate") in the amount of $257,231.62 ("Replacement Cost" or "RCV"). After subtracting $24,810.15 for depreciation withheld, the Insurer paid the Insured $232,421.47 ("Actual Cash Value" or "ACV") for the Apartment damage (with the understanding that the Insured would later be eligible to recoup some or all of the depreciation withheld, depending on the amount ultimately spent for the repairs.)

The Insured hired the Insurer's Preferred GC, to perform the repairs to her Apartment. When the repairs were about 20% complete, differences developed that led to the firing of the Insurer's Preferred GC, and the repairs temporarily halted. Before repairs resumed, the Insured hired a Consultant (licensed GC/construction cost-estimator) to determine the cost to complete the repairs. The Consultant determined that the Insured had been substantially underpaid for this loss. The Insured retained this office to re-evaluate the loss, and re- negotiate the settlement.

With the assistance of the Insured's Consultant, I performed a detailed workup of the damage to the Apartment, which resulted in a substantially higher repair estimate (hereafter "Revised Repair Estimate")--consisting of 872 Line Items, and totaling $405,507.72 (including OH&P and sales tax). Preparation of the Revised Repair Estimate entailed extensive review of pre-fire and post-fire photos, multiple lengthy client interviews, multiple site visits to inspect various details of the Apartment, and scrutiny of every Line of the [the Insurer's] Original Repair Estimate. The Revised Repair Estimate was exhaustively annotated (primarily by me), Line by Line. Thus, each Line Item in the Revised Repair Estimate (with a few exceptions) was followed by a detailed written comment. These comments explained and supported each Line Item, highlighting the differences between the Original Repair Estimate and the Revised Repair Estimate, noting what was missing from the Original Repair Estimate, and what had been added to the Revised Repair Estimate, and why.

The Revised Repair Estimate was submitted to the Insurer, along with (1) a detailed explanatory letter (chronicling, among other things, the underpayment and mishandling of the claim), (2) a DVD containing hundreds of digital photos, many of which were cited in the Line Item annotations, and (3) an invitation to meet to discuss our differences. As a result, the Insurer revised its Original Repair Estimate upward from $257,231.62 to $404,375.85, which (after a minor adjustment) resulted in a Supplemental Payment to the Insured of $147,145.69 ["new money"], together with payment of the depreciation previously withheld of $24,810.15, for a total of $171,955.84.

To address the Insured's personal property destroyed in the fire, the Insurer retained an outside vendor to prepare a Personal Property Inventory. This Inventory (hereafter "Original PPI") contained items from the downstairs portion of the Apartment--322 Items, and from a Backyard Storage Shed--127 Items (449 Items total), but included no Items from the upstairs portion of the Apartment. The Insurer priced all the Items in the Original PPI--the dollar total was $52,237.72 ("RCV"). After subtracting $21,228.24 for depreciation, the Insurer paid the Insured the remaining $31,009.48 ("ACV") for her Personal Property loss.

The Original PPI listed only a fraction of the Personal Property Items destroyed in the fire. I therefore participated in a series of lengthy meetings with the insured, extensively studied all available photos, and performed other research, for the purpose of compiling a Supplemental Personal Property Inventory (hereafter "Supplemental PPI") which would include: (1) Personal Property Items from the upstairs portion of the Apartment (all of them omitted from the Original PPI), and (2) additional Personal Property Items from the downstairs portion of the Apartment, (more than half of them omitted from the Original PPI). When completed, the Supplemental PPI consisted of 986 Line Items (in addition to the 449 Line items in the Insurer's Original PPI). When priced, the dollar total for the Supplemental PPI was $193,421.69 ("Replacement Cost"), with material sales tax included. Separately, this office also re-inventoried and re-priced all of the Personal Property Items from the Backyard Storage Shed (which had not yet been disposed of), approximately doubling the dollar amount of the Shed Items.

I worked out a favorable arrangement with the Insurer to minimize depreciation on all Personal Property Items across the board , and secured a Supplemental Payment for destroyed Personal Property in the amount (after subtracting the agreed depreciation) of $173,250.52. This payment was in addition to the $31,009.48 paid earlier on the Insurer's Original PPI, bringing the Insured's total Personal Property recovery from $31,009.48 to $204,260. (In addition, the Insured is eligible, in the future, to recoup the depreciation withheld on all Personal Property Items , depending on the amounts ultimately spent for replacement Items.)

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

>Case No. 3: Water Damage

Insurer's Offer: $81,127.96
Negotiated Settlement Amount: $190,534.48+

Summary: A four bedroom, two bathroom house in Pleasant Hill was damaged by plumbing leaks when the owner of the home left for several days on a winter vacation. Uncharacteristically low winter temperatures (below freezing) caused the copper water lines in the attic to freeze and burst, flooding the house from the top down. After several days of uninterrupted water leakage, the homeowner returned from his trip, discovered the loss and reported it to his insurer. Damage was extensive.

The insurer retained an independent adjuster to visit the home, evaluate the damage and prepare a repair estimate. The adjuster (accompanied by a general contractor) did so. Based on the independent adjuster's input and his estimate, the insurer evaluated the loss initially at $70,115.61 ("replacement cost" or "RCV"), and after subtracting the policy's $1,000 deductible and another $7,474.33 for "depreciation" ( although the policy did not permit any deduction for depreciation ), offered the owner $61,641.28 for the loss.

When the owner balked at this figure, the insurer brought in a second contractor who rebid the job at $81,127.96 ("RCV"), and the insurer's offer was increased (after subtracting the $1,000 deductible) to $80,126.96 . No other sums were offered at that time.

Thereafter, the Law Offices of Bruce C.F. McArthur was retained to represent the homeowner. I inspected the home with a different general contractor who prepared his own competing repair bid (much higher than the independent adjuster's), interviewed the owner in detail, reviewed and analyzed the available information about the claim, reviewed the owner's insurance policy and coverages, researched the applicable law, performed a detailed bid comparison and analysis, and presented the owner's position and settlement demand to the insurer in writing.

At the conclusion of negotiations, the owner's dwelling claim (claim for damage to the house) was settled with his insurer, for $165,534.48 (which included $8,408.53 in anticipated Building Code upgrade costs). The insurer also agreed to pay another

  • $24,000 for lost rents ( $2,000 /month for 12 months-the policy limit); and
  • $1,000 for landscaping damage (the insurer had never advised the owner that he was entitled to compensation for landscaping or lost rents), for a subtotal of $190,534.48 .

Further, the insurer agreed to pay the cost of several additional "open" items (invoices to be submitted when incurred), estimated in the aggregate to be in the $10,000-$20,000 range. The final payout to the homeowner was therefore projected to exceed $200,000 .

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

Case No. 4: Fire Damage

Insurer's Offer: $386,710.19
Negotiated Settlement Amount: $548,041.60

Summary : The property owned by the insured was a “rural” property in Oakley, which included a duplex rental unit, among other buildings. The duplex, a rectangular, one-story building, was destroyed in a fire and the loss was reported by the owner to his insurer.

The insurer assigned an adjuster, who visited the property and prepared a repair estimate. The owner contacted a general contractor who prepared a competing bid, much higher than the insurer’s estimate. This loss was complicated by zoning changes (the area was no longer zoned residential), which prevented the owner from rebuilding the duplex at the same location. Initially, the insurer evaluated the loss at $334,818.97 (“replacement cost” or “RCV”), subtracted $107,593.39 for depreciation and offered the owner $227,225.58 (“actual cash value” or “ACV”). Under the terms of the owner’s property insurance policy, failure to rebuild the duplex within a specific time limit would prevent the owner from “recapturing” the $107,593.39 in depreciation, limiting his recovery to the ACV amount— $227,225.58.

Another potential problem was the possibility that the owner’s lender (if included as a co-payee on the insurance check for the duplex) might not release the insurance proceeds for rebuilding (at a different location), but would instead apply the payment to the owner’s outstanding loan balance. (This could also prevent the owner from rebuilding in a timely fashion, even at a different site, thus preventing the owner from “recapturing” the depreciation, again limiting his recovery to the ACV amount of $227,225.58 .) After some negotiation between adjuster and owner’s contractor, the insurer eventually increased its repair estimate to $386,710.19 (RCV).

Because this amount was still insufficient, however, this firm was retained to represent the homeowner. After investigating the claim and researching the relevant law, including the law pertaining to whether the insurer could legally include the lender as a co-payee on the dwelling settlement check(s), this firm negotiated a resolution. The insurer agreed to pay the owner’s policy limits (for the dwelling) of $538,203 , paid as a lump sum, without any deduction for depreciation and without including the lender as a co-payee, giving the owner control over the proceeds. In addition, the insurer subsequently agreed to pay another $9,838.60 for landscaping (insurer had initially offered nothing for landscaping), for a total payout of $548,041.60 .

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

Case No. 5: Fire Damage

Insurer’s Offer: $193,543.85

Negotiated Settlement Amount: $310,695.95

Summary: A 2-story (plus basement) "Victorian" style home in San Francisco was damaged by a fire that began in the home next door, and spread to this home. There was minor damage in the basement, but serious fire and smoke damage on the first and second floors, and the roof. There was also significant water (and other) damage resulting from the firefighting efforts of the San Francisco Fire Department. The insurer assigned an experienced adjuster, who arranged for the preparation of a repair bid by a general contractor. The contractor took extensive photos and prepared a repair bid (excluding, however, the cost of replacing damaged carpet and pad), in the amount of $159,325.28 (hereafter the "insurer's bid") . Subtracting the policy's $1,000 deductible, the insurer paid the homeowner $158,325.28 , and separately paid another $4273.04 (materials and installation labor) for carpet and pad--a total of $162,598.32 for repairs. The insurer also paid additional amounts to outside vendors (purportedly on the owner's behalf), including (1) $9675 for "asbestos abatement" work, (2) $8000.03 for "plans," "engineering" and "initial board-up," and (3) $13,270.50 for "home remediation" (including demolition, debris removal, moisture removal, shortly after the fire). (These three amounts were separate from the amounts paid for repairs, set forth above, but were nevertheless subtracted from the owner's dwelling policy limits.) Thus, the total amount the insurer agreed to pay, to or for the homeowner, was $193,543.85.

The insured disagreed with the insurer's assessment of the loss, and retained this office. I reviewed the owner's insurance policy, interviewed the owner, performed an initial inspection of the home with the owner, and arranged for a different general contractor (specializing in fire restoration work) to inspect the home again, and to prepare a competing repair bid (hereafter the "owner's bid"), which when completed was considerably higher than the insurer's bid. The home was re-inspected by this office and the new contractor again, and additional photos were taken. After more interviews with the owner, to verify details of the pre-fire condition of the home, and after carefully reviewing and comparing the bids, I concluded that the insurer had dramatically underestimated the cost of repair, both by improperly omitting many necessary items from its repair bid, and by underpricing many other items, among other errors.

I prepared a "package" for the insurer, setting forth the insured's position, in detail, in writing. This package included a discussion of relevant insurance policy provisions, pertinent aspects of California insurance law, the various deficiencies in the insurer's bid and its approach to this loss, and the owner's "policy limits" demand for settlement. It was accompanied by (1) highlighted copies of the relevant repair bids, illustrating the line by line comparison of the bids, and what was missing from the insurer's bid, (2) a lengthy and detailed spreadsheet (36 pages), setting forth the specific items (and the cost of each) which the owner asserted should be added to the insurer's bid to make it complete and fair, and (3) another spreadsheet illustrating the deficiencies of the pricing method used by this insurer. After additional inspections of the home by the assigned adjuster, both contractors, and this office, and after the exchange of additional written materials and further discussions and negotiations, the insurer agreed to pay the dwelling "policy limit" of $300,673 , and an additional $10,022 for "debris removal," for a total payout of $310,695. This amount was paid without any deduction for "depreciation."

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

Case No. 6: Fire Damage

Insurer’s Offer: $259,943
Negotiated Settlement Amount: $413,193.64

Summary: A home in Lafayette was damaged by an attic fire, possibly electrical in origin, which resulted in considerable fire damage in the kitchen, hallways, living room, attic and roof, and considerable smoke and water damage throughout the home. This firm was contacted the day after the fire and soon reviewed the owners’ insurance policy and explained its key features, and the claims process, to them.

This firm participated in, or oversaw thereafter, various aspects of the claim, such as the inventory, packout, storage, etc., of personal property (all the home’s contents), the family’s relocation to a suitable rental home, obtaining advances or payments from the insurer to cover various fire-related expenses, and most importantly, evaluating the damage to the home and its contents and eventually working out settlements for both.

After some weeks, and the preparation of multiple repair estimates/bids, the insurer offered the owners $259,943 for the dwelling portion of their loss. This firm obtained a detailed repair bid from a general contractor specializing in fire repairs and performed a detailed review, analysis, comparison and synthesis of all of the available bids or estimates and presented the owners position to the insurer in writing (including detailed spreadsheets highlighting problems with insurer’s repair estimate and settlement offer), with citations to relevant policy provisions and applicable law.

The insurer agreed to a series of revisions to its repair estimate, eventually increasing the total from $259,943 to $399,445.59 . In addition, the insurer agreed to pay $4,366.85 more for permits and the preparation of plans for the repairs and another $5,884.80 as an upward adjustment for the combined cost of refinishing custom front doors and replacing stone kitchen countertops, for a subtotal of $409,697.24 . The insurer also agreed to pay $388.40 more for damaged shrubbery and $3,108 for the additional cost of maintaining utilities at two locations (the owners’ fire damaged home and their rental home) for a grand total of $413,193.64 for the dwelling loss, plus landscaping and utilities.

With respect to the home’s contents, this firm substantially supplemented the insurer’s personal property inventories (to make them more complete), and negotiated suitable settlements for the owners' damaged personal property items, including artwork, hanging fixtures, clothing, electronics, kitchenware, appliances, antique furniture pieces, etc.

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

Case No. 7: Water Damage

Insurer’s Offer: $34,684.71
Negotiated Settlement Amount: $72,500+

Summary: A water damage loss occurred in San Ramon, CA, when a flexible plumbing line for an upstairs bathroom vanity sink failed, causing water to be released at full pressure into the vanity, and onto the floor. Because the house was unoccupied at the time of the loss (the owners had just purchased the home and had not yet moved in), the leak was not discovered immediately, and as a result, there was significant water damage, both upstairs and downstairs. The insurer hired an independent adjuster to evaluate the loss.

The adjuster inspected the house and prepared a repair estimate of $34,684.71 . The insurer subtracted the policy’s $1,000 deductible and depreciation of $2,145.76 and offered the remainder, $31,538.95 , to the owners, in full settlement of the dwelling claim (with the proviso that the owners would receive the additional $2,145.76 in “depreciation” when repairs were completed and only if they spent $34,684.71 or more on repairs).

This firm was then retained to represent the owners. After investigating the claim, two repair bids from general contractors were obtained. The bids were then reviewed along with the independent adjuster’s repair estimate. Multiple inspections were performed of the home, the homeowners were interviewed in detail regarding the loss, and a detailed bid comparison and analysis was performed. Among other problems, this office discovered systematic errors by the independent adjuster in the preparation of his estimate and in the use of the software used to produce it, which improperly reduced the dollar amount of the estimate.

These errors, along with deficiencies in the scope of repair, were brought to the attention of the insurer, which thereafter agreed to pay $72,500 for the dwelling loss, together with the cost of several “open” items (invoices to be submitted later, when incurred), such as the cost of building permits, plans, debris recycling fee and code upgrade costs, to the extent required. The settlement amount was paid up front in a lump sum, with no deduction for depreciation. The $1,000 deductible was also eliminated.

The results in this case are based on its own unique facts. Results will vary if based on different facts.

References are available upon request. Please contact my office to set up a free consultation.