The observer bills seek to correct insurance companies bad behavior f gas logo

While smoke was still smoldering in the aftermath of last autumn’s Wine Country wildfires in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma Counties, I predicted that the new year would usher in an epic battle between and among the state’s Big Three (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego gas & Electric) and the state legislature over liability arising from the fires.

It’s estimated that PG&E to date has spent more than $4 million on media lobbying nationwide to rehabilitate the company’s image and to sway public opinion away from supporting legislative efforts to prohibit electric utilities found culpable in wildfires from passing the costs for claims not covered by insurance as well as fines or penalties onto customers.

“Imagine everything you own is destroyed by fire — your home, your pets, your car, and every piece of furniture, clothes, jewelry, and keepsake you have. Your entire life’s possessions have gone up in flames. And then imagine that you have to fight with the same insurance company you have faithfully paid year after year, to get them to make good on the promises they made to pay for the rebuilding of your home and the replacement of your belongings. If you are one of the 6,500 Californians who lost everything in the 2017 fires, you don’t have to imagine this. This is what you are experiencing right now. The rest of us are just one fire or other disaster away from having the same thing happen to us, losing everything and then having to fight the insurance company. Californians survived the fires only to face more emotional trauma, as they were required by the insurance companies to create detailed inventories before the insurers will pay for the contents of their homes or they discovered they were underinsured and do not have enough to rebuild their homes.”

According to McGuire and Dodd, SB 894, SB 897 and SB 1291 would bring much needed relief for consumers and reforms to the insurance industry. Senator Dodd’s SB 894 protects families when disaster strikes by placing new requirements on insurance companies. It guarantees up to three years of coverage for living expenses and requires insurers to renew policies for up to two years following a disaster. Non-renewals must be reported to the Insurance Commissioner. It also allows families to combine coverage categories. For example, if the cost to rebuild a house exceeds limits of the plan, families can apply unused contents coverage. Senator McGuire’s SB 897 would waive inventory claim form requirements (an itemized contents list) during a governor-declared state of emergency, allowing homeowners the option of foregoing the itemization and instead automatically collecting at least 80 percent of the policy limit. Without the itemized lists, some insurance companies will provide as little as 30 percent payoff. A second bill by Senator Dodd, SB 1291, would ensure independent insurance adjusters demonstrate their competence through background reviews and passage of a pre-licensing education course. It comes in response to complaints from many wildfire victims about adjusters who misrepresented current law.

“Senator Dodd and I have heard from hundreds of our neighbors who lost everything in the fires and to make matters worse, are having to re-live the most horrific night of their lives and recall and attempt to put a price on their most priceless possessions via a cumbersome itemized list,” McGuire said. “SB 897 will ensure homeowners are able to collect what their due from their insurance company in a quick and efficient timeline and it will allow them to start rebuilding their lives and homes, which will benefit their family and our community for generations to come.

“Families who pay their insurance premiums year in and year out deserve to be covered when disaster strikes,” Senator Dodd said. “This legislation requires insurance companies to have our backs when we need it most and will benefit victims of future disasters.”

Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, and is also the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: