Insurance to Cover Most Damage from Calif. Wildfires; ACIC Offering Claims Filing Tips

October 29, 2003

Most of the damage from the rash of wildfires ravaging Southern California will be covered under property owners’ homeowners and fire insurance policies, according to the Association of California Insurance Companies (ACIC).

However, the extent of coverage to rebuild homes, replace personal property, and cover additional living expenses during reconstruction will be determined by the language in each policy.

“Consumers whose homes or commercial property have been damaged or destroyed or who may be in the wildfires’ paths should contact their agent or insurance company representative as soon as possible to verify the extent of their coverage,” said ACIC President Sam Sorich. “Also, consumers should be prepared to report claims to their insurer as soon as it is safe to return to their homes and assess the damage.”

Preliminary estimates indicate that losses from the wildfires could exceed more than $1 billion. Insurance company catastrophe response teams have moved into some of the areas hit by the blaze and are handling claims as local emergency officials permit safe access to the affected areas, according to Sorich.

“All property insurance policies are not alike,” continued Sorich. “The California residential property insurance disclosure sent with your policy indicates the type of coverage you have purchased. For example, an actual cash-value fire policy will pay the fair market value of the dwelling at the time of the loss up to the policy limit.

“A homeowners policy with replacement cost coverage will pay to repair or replace the damaged or destroyed dwelling up to the policy limits. Policies with extended replacement cost coverage pay replacement costs up to a specified amount above the policy limit. Homeowners policies also pay for additional living expenses – such as food, clothing and lodging – that are incurred while policyholders are unable to live in their homes.”

California properties are at the greatest risk of wildfire from October to early November when high winds that can drive fires are at their peak.

The current outbreak of wildfires has destroyed more than 1,100 homes and caused 15 deaths. Five separate blazes spanning 500,000 acres – or about 800 square miles – are scattered around Southern California from the Mexican border north to the suburbs of Los Angeles. Firefighting forces said Tuesday that the improved weather conditions – diminished winds and cooler temperatures – should offer some relief from the raging firestorms.

Although insurance companies are already handling claims arising from the fires, the overall impact of those claims is impossible to estimate, according to Sorich.

The Northridge Earthquake, the largest single, recent disaster in California, produced in excess of 630,000 claims and cost insurers $12.5 billion in claims paid to victims of that catastrophe.

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