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Winfield bill protecting fire victims becomes law

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Thomas Winfield to give victims of house fires a 24-hour respite from insurance adjusters, contractors and restoration companies has become law.

The new law states that fire marshals, fire chiefs and police shall prohibit insurance adjusters, contractors and restoration companies from soliciting at, inspecting or entering a property for 24 hours after a fire, unless they have the owner’s permission and are accompanied by him or her.

The new law is meant to protect victims of house fires from being further victimized by those who might pressure them into making hasty and costly decisions about what to do with their property at a time when they may still be in shock and raw from the tragedy.

“This is a consumer-protection bill. When a person has been through a fire, the last thing they need is someone showing up and trying to get them to make huge decisions in the immediate aftermath. House fires can be very traumatic, and victims should be entitled to a little time to collect themselves if they need it. This bill would allow them to meet with an adjuster or a contractor immediately if they’d like, but it makes it the owner’s decision, not the choice of someone else who is out to make a profit,” said Winfield (D-Dist. 53, Smithfield, Glocester).

Representative Winfield introduced the legislation at the request of Smithfield Fire Chief Robert Seltzer after a house fire in Smithfield when an insurance adjuster tried to inspect and entered the home before fire officials were even through fighting the blaze. Besides being a consumer-protection bill, the legislation is also a way to protect public safety by preventing such unsafe situations in the future.

The bill went into effect July 9 after final General Assembly passage June 18. Identical Senate legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul W. Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield) also passed into law.