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Tennessee Wildfires: Claims and Risk Management Considerations


The wildfires that have been raging in eastern Tennessee have forced thousands of people to evacuate Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and surrounding areas, damaged hundreds of homes and structures, and caused dozens of injuries and at least four deaths. Given the region’s heavy reliance on tourism, the economic cost of these fires could be severe.

While some wildfires have been contained, others have not. Local officials continue to restrict access to affected areas and have not permitted evacuees to return.

Acting quickly and carefully during and after a wildfire or similar catastrophe is essential to your employees’ well-being, your continued business operations, and your bottom line.

The following are immediate actions that should be considered:

Business and Employee Actions

1. Implement your disaster recovery plan and monitor local authorities.

2. Stay away from your business or home until told it is safe to return.

3. Account for all employees and notify them of next steps in regards to humanitarian assistance, time-off-work policies, and expected return-to-work timetables.

4. Use extreme caution around trees, utility poles, and other tall objects that may have become unstable.

Claim-Related Actions

1. Inform your insurance broker immediately in the event of any actual or potential physical, ingress/egress, civil authority, service interruption, time element, or loss-of-attraction issues.

2. Document physical damage before beginning cleanup efforts — taking photographs can be helpful.

3. Keep damaged items unless they pose a health hazard.

4. Keep detailed records of:

  • Any order by civil authority mandating evacuation of your premises (a copy of the order is best).
  • All road closures that prevent or prohibit access to your premises.
  • Losses of service, including the specific reason for the loss of a particular service.

5. Obtain copies of all records or periodicals, including maps and photographs, that may support any claims.

6. Capture all costs and track all revenue losses associated with the event. Hospitality industry organizations in particular should track the reasons cited for any cancellations.

7. Engage external claims management and advocacy resources, as needed, to help you manage complex insurance claims.

In addition, if there is any impact to your supply chain or to customers that may result in a contingent time element claim, the above information as well as documentation of the upstream or downstream contingent issues should be gathered as soon as possible, before information becomes harder to obtain.

Taking these early steps and responding proactively can help you ensure the health and safety of your employees, recover your business, and protect your liquidity under trying circumstances.