California Officials Propose Stronger Laws for Wildfire Victims

January 18, 2018

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and legislators from wildfire-damaged communities across the state unveiled eight bills (six of which have already been introduced) and two additional legislative proposals—all designed to strengthen consumer protections for wildfire survivors making insurance claims who struggle to recover, rebuild, and move forward. Commissioner Jones and Senators Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd and Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Jim Wood, Monique Limón and Marc Levine announced the Wildfire Survivors Insurance Recovery bills yesterday.

“Californians whose homes have been destroyed totally or partially by wildfires should not get hung up in insurer red tape when trying to put their lives back together,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Our Wildfire Survivors Insurance Recovery legislative package strengthens the laws protecting wildfire survivors in the insurance claims process and will improve their chances for recovery.”

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones views the destruction of the massive Valley Wildfire in Northern California in September. Photo by California Department of Insurance

The unprecedented fires of 2017, including the North Bay fires that destroyed and damaged 21,000 homes, have underscored the challenges homeowners face when trying to navigate the insurance claims process.

Mark Sektnan, vice president, state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), issued a statement in response to the proposed new laws.

“Insurance is designed to assist homeowners who experience catastrophic losses and insurers are diligently working with thousands of policyholders to settle claims, develop rebuilding plans and return their lives to norma,” said Sektnan.

He noted that many insurers implemented the commissioner’s expedited claims handling procedures to jump start policyholders’ recovery.

“These expedited procedures include advancing payment of additional living expenses, advanced payment of personal property coverage and expedited debris removal. Insurers are working with each policyholder to settle their unique claim and help them make the best decisions for their recovery,” explained Sektnan.

Referencing the new legislation, he expressed concern that the changes could negatively impact the homeowners’ insurance market in California.

“Insurers must be able to maintain underwriting controls in order to provide the wide variety of insurance products that help protect consumers. If underwriting tools are limited, consumers could be harmed and face fewer options to meet their specific insurance needs. Insurers must also retain the tools necessary to manage their solvency to pay claims,” Sektnan said.