What can I do about the cost of damages that an insurance company says that I owe regarding a fire in my apartment?

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What can I do about the cost of damages that an insurance company says that I owe regarding a fire in my apartment?

I had a small kitchen fire in my apartment. My landlord’s insurance sent me a letter saying that I owe $11,000 in damages. I don’t believe it cost that much and asked for receipts and they said there are none. They are charging me off of the claims adjuster’s report. The insurance company will file a civil lawsuit if I don’t pay. Would it benefit me more to just pay or to go to court with them?

Asked on June 4, 2013 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

There is no way to answer your question in the abstract--it depends on how much you think you are  being overcharged by. If you go to court, if you retain an attorney to defend you, assume you will pay between $1,000 and $3,000 (at a minimum) for your defense. (While you are not required to retain a lawyer, trying to represent yourself in non-small claims court will put you at such a a disadvantage that you will most likely lose anyway). If you defend yourself, you will still have to pay the reasonable cost of the repairs, whatever that is--you will not come out of there owing nothing, if you were in fact responsible for the fire. Therefore, if you think you are being overcharged by $5,000 or $6,000, it is most likely worthwhile to fight them in court; if you think you are being overcharged by only $1,000 to $2,000, it would not be. A good first step may be to talk to contractors and otherwise do some research and find out what a reasonable cost (labor and materials) for the repairs might be; that will let you determine if it seems to be in your interest to defend against the claim or to pay it.


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