State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones on Thursday urged insurance companies to provide North Bay fire victims up to 100 percent of their personal property coverage limits without requiring them to fill out a detailed inventory.
Jones’ notice came as an increasing number of local fire victims have appealed to their carriers to ease the inventory requirement, arguing they have been overwhelmed with the time-consuming task — which can take more than 40 hours to complete — while also juggling to rebuild their lives after the costliest wildfire in American history.
Insurers in October adhered to a voluntary agreement with the state Insurance Department by advancing at least 25 percent of their personal property coverage without itemization for fire victims. But Jones is urging them to go beyond that and quickly settle and fully pay claims for items ranging from computers to clothes to furniture.
“(D)ue to the large scale of these wildfires, many insureds are overwhelmed with the tasks of dealing with housing issues and family issues and construction issues and other major adverse changes in their daily lives,” Jones wrote to insurers.
“The Department has received numerous complaints from insureds about the monumental task of attempting to identify every item of personal property they may have amassed over years or decades in order to collect replacement cost,” the letter added.
Jones has asked insurers to reply by Jan. 8 whether they will comply with his request.
Policyholders have filed 14,686 residential property claims in Sonoma County, resulting in almost $7 billion in damages, according to data the department released earlier this month. Of that total, there were 4,785 residences completely destroyed in the fires. Insurance companies have paid out almost $2.4 billion so far.
Jones’ notice comes as word spread among fire victims within the last week that one carrier — CSAA Insurance Group — was paying up to 100 percent of policy claims up to each policyholder’s limit for personal property without a fully itemized list.
Matt Quan, a leader for a group of fire victims covered by CSAA, said in an interview he heard from at least 30 fellow policyholders that they were fully paid out in an expedited manner without filling out a detailed inventory.
Those policyholders told him they were paid without CSAA taking any depreciation off the value of the items lost.
Carriers typically pay out only the depreciated value of the items first, and later pay the remaining difference for the replacement cost once they receive paid receipts for the new products.
One CSAA policyholder, who asked not be identified, said he got a 100 percent payout last week for his personal property destroyed in the fire without having to file any itemization. The man said he only had to file a sworn statement that he did not falsify his claim.
In a statement, CSAA said there has been no policy change on how it handles personal property claims.
It did acknowledge, however, “there was some miscommunication” that might have led some of its policyholders to think there had been a policy change, and it was working “directly with our customers to clear up any confusion.”
The company added that it is handling each claim on a case-by-case basis.