California experienced the worst wildfire season in history in 2017. An unprecedented 21,000 homes were destroyed by fires in Santa Rosa and throughout Northern California. Another 15,000 homes were destroyed in Santa Barbara and Southern California making 2017 a record year of destruction. Homeowners are left with extensive damages and tough decisions on whether to rebuild their lost homes. To make matters worse, there are limited insurance proceeds available to assist in these rebuilding efforts.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones along with several state legislators from wildfire damaged communities have unveiled eight bills and two additional legislative proposals that will strengthen consumer protections for those making insurance claims. The Wildfire Survivors Insurance Recovery bills is aimed at developing measures that will protect insurance policyholders and improve the recovery process without creating unintended consequences that would damage the highly competitive homeowner insurance marketplace. The bill would limit underwriting tools that would create fewer options to meet the injured homeowner’s specific insurance needs. With regards to homeowner insurance claims, one bill would extend the time frame for rebuilding to 36 months. The additional time would allow for homeowners to make informed decisions on construction to assist in future fire prevention with improved construction technologies.
The other bills are aimed at consolidating litigation claims against Southern California Edison into one “judicial council coordinated proceeding” or JCCP where one judge would oversee all pre-trial proceedings which would eliminate duplication, reduce time and expense, and minimize the possibility of inconsistent rulings across cases. This is similar to the course of action taken from the 2015 Butte Fire allowing more than 2,000 cases to be coordinated under a JCCP, and the San Francisco County Superior Court allowing a JCCP for the North Bay Fire litigation brought against PG&E in January 2018.
These rebuilding efforts will be complicated, and homeowners will have a tough road ahead dealing with insurance claims and potential litigation.