True story. I once started a fire in my house. It was by accident. It actually is pretty embarrassing. I was a law student. I was tired. I had exams and would wake up at about 6 every morning, study until about midnight, come home, eat, and hit the sack. I lived on the typical student diet of pizza. Just post-Katrina there weren’t many options for pizza delivery, so it was usually the same company over and over. You know you might have a problem when your delivery driver asks you how class is going.
One particular night, I got home, got my pizza, ate a couple of slices, and got ready for bed. I didn’t put the pizza in the fridge (yeah I know, I’m bad, but I was never a big cold pizza fan). I shoved the pizza box with the remaining pizza in the over. This made sense to me at the time. I didn’t want mice or bugs getting to my pizza before I did.
Another long day passed and I got ready to head home. I decided no pizza that night. I would instead go with my other food addiction. So I went to the store and picked up a microwavable meal of Swedish Meatballs. If you haven’t tried it, you really should. I didn’t have a microwave (broke student), so I got home late and tired and flipped the oven on to 350 so it could preheat. I have a simple math equation for you. Oven heating up + cardboard pizza box = fire.
I was okay. My landlord wasn’t happy, but the house ended up being okay if only because I foolishly grabbed the flaming pizza box and threw it outside. Don’t do that, by the way.
I am assuming you probably haven’t turned on an oven while a cardboard box was in it. You may have done something else though. You may have lit a candle and walked away.
This happens a lot more often than people would think. The purpose of this post is not to tell you that you should not leave a lit candle alone in your house. I think we knows that.
What we’re going to explore is whether this is a basis to deny your fire claim. I’m speaking generally as I haven’t seen every single policy that could possibly exist, but we can talk pretty confidently here, especially because Louisiana is governed by something called the Standard Fire Policy.
So let’s put you in the scene. You’ve come home after a long day of work. You’ve had dinner. You’re sitting down watching TV. Maybe you’re stressed. You decide to light a candle. Maybe it’s one of those nice scented candles that relaxes you.
Something happens and you get a phone call. You step into the other room to do some chores while you’re taking the call. You forgot to blow out the candle. That candle falls. It could fall for any number of reasons. Maybe you close the door in the other room and the vibration knocked the candle over. Maybe the candle just burned down low enough that it kind of lost its balance. Maybe you have a pet and the pet jumped and hit the candle or hit something else.
In any case, that lit candle has now fallen. It then sets fire to your couch, your carpet, your curtain, or something like that. Now the fire spreads. Of course, hopefully you have smoke detectors and you hear it go off but if you don’t at some point, you probably smell or hear something.
If the fire is too big at this point for you to put it out yourself, what do you do? You probably run out of the house, call 9-1-1 and wait for the fire department to come put it out. Now, the fire department has put out your fire and you have an absolute mess of a house. There is water damage from the fire department putting out the fire. Many of your items are burned. There is smoke damage everywhere. The fire department hopefully was able to open the door, but they may have actually busted your door in. They may have literally destroyed your door in the process of trying to get to the fire. They may have broken your windows. Now it’s your job to pick up the pieces.
You might call an emergency vendor to come board up your windows or board up your doors. Basically, you are just trying to get your house in a position where at least you don’t have to worry about after burglary.
You can’t stay in your house. At this point, your house probably smells. It may not be safe if enough of your house caught fire. You may not even have a bed anymore.
Here’s the big question. Do you call your insurance company? After all you knew, you shouldn’t have left a candle unattended, but you did anyway. So, do you call your insurance company?
Should your insurance company pay for that damage? The short answer is, yes. The insurance companies should pay for that damage. Unless you intentionally set fire to your house, an accident is still something that should be covered.
I’m lucky and my clients are really good people. They tell me “look, it was my fault, I shouldn’t be paid.” They then want to back away from their own claim. I ask them all the same question. Why did you buy insurance? Didn’t you buy it in case something happened?
A claim can still be made even if the fire was their fault.
Under our scenario, the insurance company should still pay for temporary living arrangements, should still replace your items, and should still fix your house. These are all things that you typically have an absolute right to receive, but sometimes when we realize a fire is our fault, we don’t assert our rights. Obviously, your insurance company wont complain that you didn’t assert your rights.
I’m not going to promise you now that your insurance company won’t try to blame you. I’m not going to promise you that your insurance company will not try to deny your claim and accuse you of arson. I can’t do that, because I don’t trust insurance companies. But what I am telling you is that you are entitled to compensation if it was purely an accident and your insurance policy covers fire damage.
Why would I go into all this? There is a general rule of thumb you can use for these blog entries.
If I’m writing about it, it’s probably something either myself, a colleague, or a lawyer at another firm has seen.
In fact, even outside of the claims we handle, I actively go look through filed cases in court and see what’s going on. I look for trends with the insurance companies and I see what happens.
What’s the moral of the story. Obviously, the first moral of the story is, if you light a candle, try to blow it out before you leave the room. But the second moral the story is accidents happen, mistakes happen. That’s exactly why you have insurance. So please don’t give up.
CALL(504) 493-7519 OR EMAIL US AT TO CONTACT OUR NEW ORLEANS PROPERTY AND CASUALTY ATTORNEYS AT SVHC. WE’LL IDENTIFY WRONG DOING ON THE PART OF YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY, AND DEMAND YOUR FINANCIAL JUSTICE.