The latest estimates of insurance losses from California wildfires is between 9 billion dollars and 13 billion dollars. These estimates include property and auto damage, such as burn and smoke damage, business interruption, additional living expenses, and contents loss. With this level of destruction and disruption, there is an urgent need to expedite claims to get the California residents and industries back to business and life as usual.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has called upon all property insurance companies to apply emergency expedited claims handling procedures and billing grace periods to help the victims of the wildfires that have ravaged the state.
The Commissioner is hoping to assist California residents and businesses to start their recovery more quickly.
Commissioner Jones has points out several areas where insurance companies can modify their procedures and practices:
Additional Living Expenses (ALE)
Upon request, insurance companies should adopt a standard ALE advance payment of at least four months for a total loss. In addition, the Commissioner urges additional ALE be available upon proper proof following the advance period, also upon request.
While current law doesn’t have any requirement for advance payment of ALE, the practice would recognize the stark reality that after a total loss in a wildfire disaster, Californians need support right away.
As to an insured’s property contents, insurance companies are urged to provide a standard contents advance payment of at least 25% of policy limits for a total loss of the primary residence in a California wildfire. The Commissioner adds that additional contents payments should be available with the proper proof and upon request.
After the satisfaction of a proof of an automobile claim, insurance companies should expedite payment of auto property damage claims under comprehensive loss coverage. However, the Department of Insurance didn’t specify exactly the degree to which these auto claims should be expedited.
In order to expedite the billing process and get Californians on their way to recovery, insurance companies should grant billing leniency for at least 30 days for customers in designated wildfire disaster areas. It’s not uncommon for those who experience a wildfire loss to lose their insurance renewal notices or not have the ability to have their mail forwarded. This can mean victims losing their insurance coverage for nonpayment of premiums. The Insurance Commissioner notes that some insurance companies have already begun voluntarily granting payment leniency for California wildfire victims.
The 30-day leniency isn’t limited to homeowners insurance, but includes renewal bills for auto insurance, health insurance, and life insurance—the paperwork of which are just as likely to be destroyed as a homeowners insurance invoice.
The Commissioner also encourages insurance companies to cooperate with an expedited debris removal process that would be through city, county, and state agencies. This should be with master debris removal vendor contracts, unless the insurance company can provide a faster debris removal outside of the state and local government’s coordinated effort.
California insureds and insurance companies wouldn’t be required to pay more than the reasonable expenses for debris removal, and the insurance companies would help their insureds in providing policy and payment information to the county so the county could fulfill its due diligence requirements.
Concerning inventory forms, insurance companies should accept home inventory software (or paper alternatives) currently available to the public by IINC or the CDI (or other reasonable forms)—eliminating the requirement for company-specific inventory forms. However, insurance companies wouldn’t have to waive their rights to ask for more information when they receive an inventory form from an insured.
The Commissioner advocates that insurance companies should agree to accept reduced itemization of contents in wildfire total losses. In some cases, Jones says, it’s appropriate for inventories to allow grouping of categories of personal property, like allowing a listing of “100 DVD movies” instead of requiring a list of each of the film titles.
Hopefully all California insurance companies will adopt the Commissioner’s recommendations for wildfire victims.
You should have a seasoned professional working with you on your wildfire insurance claim to be certain that you receive the payment you deserve in this wildfire crisis.
Contact me at the Thompson Law Office with insurance questions and for a free consultation to be sure you receive the reimbursement to which you’re entitled. With an experience lawyer fighting expedite claims for you, you can receive the maximum compensation and insurance payout available to you and your loved ones.