Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Apr 6, 2016

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Most homeowners have fire insurance, but few truly understand what it is and how it works. We spoke with two experts in the field to get an accurate definition. The first is fire insurance expert Dave Peterson who has practiced in the insurance industry for over 30 years and acts as an expert witness on behalf of plaintiffs. The second is Advocate Law Group partner Bob Scott, who has also practiced in the insurance industry for over 30 years and is a champion of consumer rights. Here’s what they had to say:

Dave Peterson: Generally, insurance policies are broken down into four areas. One is the insuring agreement. The second are the definitions. The third would be exclusions, and the fourth would be conditions. Every fire policy – almost every fire policy – has four areas of coverage.

The first area would be the dwelling. The second area would be other structures like a detached garage, gazebo, guest house, etc. The third area is personal property – the property that the insured would have in the home when the fire took place. The fourth would be what they call loss of use or additional living expenses and that coverage helps to pay for the insured to move out and live somewhere else for the period of time it takes to repair the structure before they can move back.

You can get additional coverage by way of endorsements, which might add such important coverages as jewelry or furs because the policies will limit the amount of coverage for those and also for code upgrades. This is a pretty important coverage area that insureds should try to get because if the home is destroyed or significantly impaired, sometimes the cities require different construction than it would take to just put it back together as it was before. In that regard, the insurance industry will deny that code upgrade coverage unless there is a specific endorsement providing that coverage. There are some policies that provide that coverage to a limited basis, usually around $10,000, and most of the time, the losses are much more than that. Bob, anything you want to add?

Bob Scott: Yes. Dave did a great job of it; let me just give my perspective. I think one thing that would also be considered a “structure” is a shed, something you would commonly find next to a house in some places. Personal property is pretty straightforward. It’s all your “stuff”. As we pass by these different coverages, it’s important to note that policyholders should take a moment with their video camera and just stand outside the house and shoot the whole outside of the house and then walk through the house and just identify all of their personal property.

Open the closets. Look inside. Just make, if you would, a very simple 10 to 15 minute video of their house, their property and their other structures. In other words, videotape the home, the other structures and their personal property by just showing the camera around, not too fast, using slow pans and give that to a family member to put someplace else in case your house burns down. That’s probably the best thing one could do to prepare for this other than to learn more about their coverages.”