Calif. Aims to Speed Wildfire Claims, Prevent Price Gouging

October 25, 2007

In anticipation of an onslaught of severe insurance claims resulting from the Southern California wildfires, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has issued an emergency declaration to help accelerate claims processing.

“I am issuing a declaration which will expedite additional insurance adjusters to California to assist survivors of the fire storms with the prompt processing of insurance claims resulting from this catastrophic event,” Poizner said. “During this state of emergency, I want to ensure Californians that I will do all that I can to help them through this crisis and rebuild as quickly as possible. For many, the first step on the road to recovery is to cut through the red tape, have their loss documented and processed for a claim. We want to remove any unnecessary delays to the system and make sure we have enough adjusters on the job.”

Those who have suffered loss from the fires are being encouraged to seek safety and contact their insurance companies as soon as possible to begin receiving assistance, according to Sam Sorich, presidento f the Association of California Insurance Companies. “During this difficult time, insurers are avialble to provide assistance. in fact, many insruers already have emergency teams in place and are assisting their policyholders.”

The California Department of Insurance (CDI) proclamation will allow CDI-licensed insurance adjusters and insurers to use the services of non-CDI licensed adjusters, such as those from out-of-state, to assist with the processing of the multitude of anticipated insurance claims arising from the fire storms. The work performed by the non-CDI licensed adjusters must be under the active direction, control, charge, or management of a CDI-licensed insurer or adjuster.

Poizner issued the declaration in according with the requirements of Section 14022.5 of the California Insurance Code, which provides that such use is reasonably necessary in order to adequately respond to the emergency situation. He issued this type of declaration in January to assist with extreme California crop freezes.

While the declaration should help to speed claims processing, state Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that he was prepared to investigate and prosecute any businesses that attempt to wrongfully profit from the situation.

“It is illegal to exploit the state of emergency for personal gain,” Brown said. “Fires have ravaged communities across Southern California, and the state’s anti-price gouging law is now in full force. Anyone who tries to wrongfully profit from the suffering of others will be investigated by the California Department of Justice.”

California’s anti-price gouging statute, Penal Code Section 396, became immediately effective after the state of emergency was declared on Sunday, October 21. It prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before the emergency declaration. The law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, and housing and hotel accommodations.

Violators can result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, a fine up to $10,000 or civil enforcement actions.

People who have been victimized by price gouging are being directed to visit or call 800-925-5225. A copy of Poizner’s disaster declaration can be found at under “Latest News.”

Sorich said it was too early to determine how widespread or the extent of the damage that has been sustained.

Sources: ACIC, CDI, AG

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