Ask Annissa: How Do I Handle Sensitive Documents Damaged in a Fire Loss?
Personal papers like bills, canceled checks, credit card statements and everyday magazines have no value in the eyes of the insurance company
What’s the best way to handle and clean personal papers in a fire loss that have been damaged by soot and also smell? The homeowner wants to keep them and won’t let me throw them away.
Personal papers like bills, canceled checks, credit card statements and everyday magazines have no value in the eyes of the insurance company and they often don’t want to pay for them to be cleaned or deodorized. However, they often have value to the homeowner.
The biggest problem with this is that paper can hold a lot of odor and may re-contaminate the house once everything is unpacked. So first off, we check with the homeowner and see if the paperwork is something that they can live without. Or is it really important and needs to be kept? Once you explain that the papers can hold a lot of odor and may cause recontamination of the house and belongings, this will sometimes make the homeowner more aggressive about putting them in the round file.
If the paperwork cannot be parted with and must go on the “keep it list,” then we dust them off and organize them into a large 11x14 inch spec bag. This is a heavy duty plastic bag that keeps the odor and contamination contained until the homeowner can photo copy or reprint the documents they want to keep. The cost to the insurance company to handle them this way is really no more than their cost would be to throw them away, so this keeps your adjuster and homeowner happy.
This also allows the homeowner to go through the papers at their convenience as they are dealing with a lot of pressing decisions in the first few days after a fire. Having one less pressing thing to have to handle right away can be a huge relief for them.
Have a question for Annissa? E-mail her at Annissa@firehouseeducation.com.