Fire Victims Should Seek Safety, Make Contact with Insurers

November 18, 2008

As firefighters work to contain the Tea, Sayre, and Freeway Complex fires throughout Southern California, property/casualty insurance companies are on the ground reaching out to policyholders to facilitate immediate shelter needs and begin the process of recovering and rebuilding, according to the American Insurance Association (AIA).

“Once again, Southern California has seen the destruction of wind driven wildfires and once again insurers will be there to help policyholders put their lives back together,” said Gov. Marc Racicot, president of AIA. “Affected homeowners and renters should immediately contact their insurance companies to report any losses. Just call your company’s toll free claims hotline to get the recovery process underway.”

By first seeking safety and then contacting their insurance companies, victims can begin receiving assistance as soon as possible, agreed Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies.

According to Sorich, insurers also are attempting to contact their policyholders. Many insurers have established claims units at evacuation locations and have mobile units attempting to locate their customers.

Sorich also noted that wildfire-related laws have gone into effect over the past few years that will help victims of the wildfires now sweeping through parts of Southern California. The new laws are largely the result of the lessons learned from past devastating wildfires.

“The state laws have improved post-fire assistance, especially in cases where a state of emergency has been declared,” he said.

Following are relevant recent laws that assist homeowners:

*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.

*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.

*The Department of Insurance is authorized to establish mediation programs for victims of wildfires that are declared a state of emergency by the governor.

*After a loss, policyholders, free of charge, receive copies of their policies within 30 days of their receipt of the requests.

*In the event of an emergency, insurers must extend the coverage of additional living expenses up to 24 months, without increasing policy limits and without changing other policy conditions.

Sorich also noted the property/casualty insurance industry is fundamentally strong financially despite the economy’s downturn. As a result the insurance industry is well positioned to handle claims resulting from the fires.

“Insurers are fully committed to helping affected policyholders recover in the days and weeks ahead. AIA member companies, their agents and claims adjusters have sent experienced catastrophe teams into the five counties impacted and are on the ground and available to begin processing claims,” said Racicot. “The insurance industry plans for catastrophes such as this and is both solidly capitalized and financially prepared to respond to this latest disaster.”

“Financial preparedness is just as important as physically preparing for a disaster. These catastrophic fires should serve as a reminder to other California homeowners that they should do an insurance review with their agent or insurer to make sure they have adequate coverage. It is good practice to call your carrier and report any upgrades, remodeling or expansions done on your home. Homeowners should also complete home inventories, video tape their home’s contents and store copies of important papers off site,” concluded Racicot.

Insurance company toll-free hotlines can be found at:

Sources: ACIC, AIA

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