Calif. Commissioner, State Sen. Vow to Continue Fight to Help Fire Victims

June 25, 2004

Vowing to help bring justice to Southern California firestorm survivors, as well as future victims of disasters, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and Senator Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, announced Thursday they will reintroduce legislation designed to protect the rights of homeowners who file claims.

“This disaster took 24 lives and burned 3,600 homes from Simi Valley to San Diego,” said Garamendi. “Now, the victims of those fires are being burned again as insurance companies deny them the coverage they need to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

On Wednesday, the Assembly Insurance Committee failed to pass SB 1474, Escutia, which would have prohibited insurers from refusing to issue a policy, renew a policy, or base a surcharge on a policy, for claims related to a natural cause (earthquake, lightning, hail, floods) or fires where the fire began on someone else’s property. The bill would also have included claims that are filed but not payable under the policy and claims for which the exposure to loss has been removed.

The bill, a major component of Garamendi’s Homeowners Bill of Rights, would have reportedly helped many victims of the firestorm, including those who have been unable to get coverage since filing a claim for destroyed property, or those whose policies have or may be non-renewed in the future because they made a fire claim. Garamendi and Sen. Escutia said these people, and all homeowners, have a right to use an insurance product that they paid premiums to have.

“We will not give up until every past and future victim of such a disaster is protected from insurance companies who cancel them after a legitimate claim,” said Sen. Escutia. “I commend Chairman Vargas and his five colleagues who stood up to the insurance lobbyists and voted for victims of the firestorm, and I look forward to working with them as we continue pressing this fight.”

Garamendi said that the protections from SB 1474 will be put into already existing legislation and taken directly to the House and Senate chambers for votes. “This use it and lose it syndrome must end,” he said. “Californians should not be afraid to use their policies when they have a legitimate claim.”

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