Disaster Recovery Claims

By Michael Phillips   |   January 25, 2018

All of us have been damaged by the fires and mudflows that have left our community reeling over the past month. As we grieve for the loss of too many of our neighbors, and the destruction of so much of our community, we all share the burden of getting the insurance coverage we paid for associated with this tragedy; specifically our forced evacuation, and for many, the additional daunting task of replacing or repairing our homes and property.

Due to the forced evacuation orders affecting all of us in Montecito and the State’s declaration of “disaster,” we are all entitled to Additional Living Expenses. Your insurance company must provide a list in writing as to specific items that are covered and reimbursable plus the dollar and/or time limit caps specified in your policy. Generally, reasonable expenses incurred as a result of not being able to live in our homes, whether temporarily or permanently, should be covered within policy limits. If your home was destroyed, you are entitled to at least 24 months of coverage (CA Ins. Code section 2060).

As we are all experiencing, the path to recovery after a disaster event is neither easy nor quick. Insurance is big business, and the claims process is often complicated. Fortunately, California’s “Fair Claims Settlement Practices Act” provides more protection to us than does any other state. 

Most importantly, your insurance company has a legal duty to deal with you fairly and honestly, and to investigate, process, and pay you for your loss promptly. In reality, given prior disaster claimants’ experiences, we will most likely be facing difficult arm’s-length negotiations with our insurance providers. 

Those of us who must rebuild will certainly be facing a protracted, difficult process. If we arm ourselves with a basic understanding of the laws that are to control this procedure, we might speed up our settlements and improve our chances of recovering what we are entitled to under our respective policies.

For specifics on claim rules, deadlines, and what we are owed, we’ll want to know about California’s Fair Claim Handling Regulations. They identify what information our insurance company must provide us and what we must provide to them. In addition, they spell out important deadlines for responding to letters and phone calls, submitting paperwork itemizing our loss, and when our insurer must pay us or deny our claim. 

To obtain copies of these laws and regulations, make a request in writing to your insurance company. They are required by law to give them to us. You can also find them at www.insurance.ca.gov and go to “insurers” section, “legal information.”

Michael Phillips is a Montecito resident, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, a former Montecito Planning commissioner, and an attorney licensed in the District of Columbia.


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