California Teams, Laws To Aid Victims in Lake Tahoe Fire

June 27, 2007

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has dispatched Damage Assessment and Disaster Fraud Response teams to Lake Tahoe to assist consumers with the losses from the Agora fire burning at Lake Tahoe. Meanwhile, a state insurance association is saying state laws that were passed in recent years should aid victims.

“The Lake Tahoe blaze has destroyed homes and left neighborhoods in ruin. This fire is a harsh reminder of the dangerous conditions that make the 2007 fire season potentially disastrous for California,” Poizner said. “The amount of damage caused by this wildfire is still being assessed, and I have dispatched key members of my staff to the area to equip local residents to help them recover from this disaster as quickly as possible.”

Poizner said the Disaster Fraud Response team will work with local law enforcement and make property owners aware of the potential for scam artists (i.e. unlicensed public adjusters, unlicensed contractors, etc.).

The Disaster Assessment Team, comprised of California Department of Insurance (CDI) staff and insurance company catastrophic loss adjusters, will help to determine the extent of the insured losses in the area and to determine if insurers will have the capacity to quickly adjust insurance claims and get money into the hands of those whose homes and other property were damaged or destroyed in the fire, he said.

According to Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, the following laws were implemented, in part, based on the lessons learned from the wildfires that swept through Southern California in 2003.

•AB 2199 – When a fire loss is the result of a “state of emergency” event, the time limit for replacing the destroyed structure is 24 months from the date of the first payment from the insurer. Effective Aug. 25, 2004.

•AB 2962 – An insurer is not allowed to cancel a policy while the primary insured structure is being rebuilt, except for existing statutory reasons for cancellation. When the total loss to the primary structure is caused by a government-declared disaster and was not due to the negligence of the insured, the insurer is required to offer to renew the policy. Effective Jan. 1, 2005.

•SB 64 – This law extends the authority of the Department of Insurance to establish mediation programs for victims of wildfires that are declared a state of emergency by the governor. Effective Aug. 30, 2004.

•AB 873 – This law requires insurers, after a loss, to provide policyholders, free of charge, copies of their policies within 30 days of the insurers’ receipt of the requests. Effective Jan. 1, 2006.

•SB 2 – In the event of an emergency, this law requires insurers to extend the coverage of additional living expenses up to 24 months, without increasing policy limits and without changing other policy conditions. Effective Jan. 1, 2007.

“Recent state laws have improved post-fire assistance, especially in cases – such as the Angora Fire – where a state of emergency has been declared. We sympathize with the victims of the latest fire. Insurers are already on the scene locating and providing immediate assistance to their policyholders who lost their homes in the Angora Fire,” Sorich said.

Source: ACIC, CDI

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