Insurance bills look to address complaints about wildfires
By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Jan. 16, 2018
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers said Tuesday they're introducing a variety of bills to protect consumers who lose their homes in major disasters — a response to complaints about insurance companies from people who lost their homes in last year's destructive wildfires.
The measures would require insurers to waive paperwork requirements or extend coverage, but little in the legislation would help fire victims or others who have already lost homes.
"The laws in place now need to be strengthened," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat who is running for attorney general, said in a news conference at the Capitol. "Californians hard hit by these disasters should not be hung up by insurance company red tape as they rebuild their lives."
October wildfires in California's wine country killed 44 people, damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 homes and generated $9 billion in insurance claims. Those fires were followed by another wave of destruction in December, when fires swept through areas of Southern California.
Insurers need to maintain control over their costs to remain solvent and continue selling policies in California, said Mark Sektnan, vice president of state government relations for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry lobbying group.
"Our goal is to develop measures that will protect policyholders and improve the recovery process without creating unintended consequences that damage California's highly competitive homeowners insurance marketplace," Sektnan said in a statement.
Insurers generally require a detailed list of items destroyed in a fire and their value. That process requires people "to relive the most horrific night of their lives," said Democratic state Sen. Mike McGuire, of Healdsburg, who represents Santa Rosa and other areas heavily damaged in October.
"It's simply too much to ask," McGuire said.
McGuire's bill would require insurers to pay at least 80 percent of the coverage limit without the itemized list if a home was lost during a disaster declared by the governor.
Among the other bills are measures that would give people more time to rebuild their homes and receive reimbursement for their alternative living arrangements. Lawmakers say widespread destruction can create shortages of construction workers, making it difficult for everyone to rebuild at the same time.