The dreaded inventory after fires. Does your insurer require it?
Kitty Loberg said she could only devote minimal blocks of time to remember all the personal items she lost when the October wildfires destroyed her Redwood Valley home.
“When your body is still in a shocked state in trying to deal with the reality (of rebuilding) and everything with that ... Iit hurts,” said Loberg. “Your mind starts screaming at you and says, ‘No, I just don’t want to do this.’”
Here and there, Loberg would compile a list of items lost inside her house, barn and shed on her 1one-acre property in Mendocino County.
And then she caught a break. Her insurer, CSAA Insurance Group, stopped asking for a detailed list in January. Instead, it allowed Loberg to submit a summary of her property losses from 65 different categories to simplify and speed up the claims process.
CSAA is one of almost 50 insurers pressured by state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in December to pay North Bay fire victims up to 100 percent of their personal property coverage limits without a detailed inventory.
Jones required insurers to show state regulators how they intended to help fire victims get bigger insurance payouts with less paperwork and stress. He publicly listed the names of insurers that paid out more — and less — than 50 percent of their coverage limits without documentation, enabling fire victims to gauge how their company was treating customers in the wake of the disaster.
Loberg credits such pressure for helping her ultimately get every penny out of her policy covering personal property without listing every single item she lost, though she still had to submit estimates of her losses broken down into broad categories.
“I think it was a good thing he did,” she said of Jones. “It provided some support to help on everything else.”
Jones’ action — along with policyholders banding together to pressure top industry executives — has had a significant results, said Amy Bach, executive director of the United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group. Her group has assisted fire victims with advice on how to lobby and negotiate with their insurance carrier.
“I think the momentum has been building on this issue since the last major catastrophe,” Bach said. “On this one (issue), I think this is really strong.”
Twenty-two percent of fire victims said they received 100 percent of their personal property claims without being required by their carrier to submit a complete home inventory, according a survey conducted by United Policyholders.
Under pressure from policyholders and Jones, 39 carriers have publicly pledged to pay at least 50 percent of a fire victims’ personal property claim without an itemized list. Many have agreed to pay even more, but Jones said he could not release specific payout policies because their reports to regulators were not covered under the California Public Records Act.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, wants insurers to pay out at least 80 percent of personal property claims without itemization in the aftermath of a declared state of emergency. McGuire’s bill, SB 897, would be applied retroactively to July 1. “This is going to be one hell of a fight,” McGuire said of advancing his bill against the insurance lobby.
The Press Democrat surveyed the 10 largest insurance companies in the North Bay and their policyholders to determine how much money they were receiving for personal property claims without itemizing their losses. The 10 insurers cover 89 percent of the homes insured in Sonoma County, according to the state Department of Insurance.