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Insurers asked to ease property loss reporting requirements for Spokane wildfire victims

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(The Center Square) – Insurers are being asked to ease property loss reporting requirements for victims of last summer’s destructive Gray and Oregon Road wildfires in Spokane County.

In a letter issued Wednesday, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he has been contacted directly by affected individuals sharing their difficulties in processing claims for personal property losses.

“Claim adjustment exists to help people – in this case, people impacted by wildfire – be made whole. It should not be an adversarial process,” Kreidler wrote.

His letter was sent to all property insurance companies adjusting losses from the two fires, which destroyed over 350 homes in the county last August. Kreidler asked them to provide relief from policy requirements for fully itemized lists of personal property losses and instead allow grouping of similar items. Cited as an example: listing “six sweaters” instead of an individual size and make for each garment.

“These wildfire victims have lost everything in their homes; an itemized list could easily be over 5,000 line items,” Kreidler stated.

To expedite, he asked the companies to consider mirroring what they’re required to do in neighboring states with wildfire losses – providing a percentage of a policy holder’s total limits of liability without requiring complete itemized lists. Under a governor’s emergency declaration in Oregon, Kreidler noted, insured persons were provided with a minimum 70% of personal property coverage for their residence.

“This is a fair settlement offer,” he suggested, noting a policy holder could also choose to recover more by submitting a full itemized list of loss for company review.

Regarding structural damage, Kreidler said some companies immediately paid out policy limits when informed of a home’s total destruction.

“That immediate determination help (the insured owners) because timely settlements are important in recovery efforts,” he wrote.

Kreidler said he expects all affected insurance companies to follow state regulations in promptly providing necessary claim forms, instructions, and “reasonable assistance.” He also said companies are responsible for accurate determinations of depreciation – accompanied by supporting documentation – to set “actual cash value” payouts to policyholders.

“I truly appreciate the time and effort company staff and our local insurance producers are putting in to help our communities become whole after these devastating fires,” he concluded.

Kenton Brine, president of the Seattle-based Northwest Insurance Council, a nonprofit representing the interests of regional providers, said he believes insurers are responding “with appropriate speed and compassion toward their policyholders by providing as much claims assistance and payments as their policy contracts allow.”

In an email to The Center Square, Brine said insurers often respond to wildfire disasters by assigning claims personnel in nearby communities to begin issuing claim payments, sometimes within a day or two. Typically, that includes additional living expenses to pay for food and lodging for displaced families and a percentage of a homeowner’s policy coverage for contents – 70% to 85% in some cases, he said.

“This is intended to help fire victims begin the recovery and rebuilding process as quickly as possible,” said Brine.

Nonetheless, he noted that insurance is “a competitive and individualized industry” with each company setting its own claims processes and requirements. He also said the threat of wildfires continues to increase in eastern Washington and the western United States.

Brine said insurers, the NW Insurance Council, and the Insurance Information Institute frequently remind homeowners and renters of the importance of reviewing their coverage and maintaining a current inventory of their possessions “in case the worst happens.” He suggested walking through living and garage spaces with a smartphone, recording what’s seen with comments about items and their value; scanning receipts of major purchases; and using online apps to create home inventories.

Echoing Kreidler, Brine said policyholders having claim difficulties which can’t be resolved by contacting their insurer may also reach out to the commissioner’s office for assistance.

Kreidler said representatives from his office were in the affected Spokane County communities of Medical Lake and Elk last week to answer questions from residents. Additionally, he referenced President Biden’s February issuance of a federal disaster declaration for the Spokane area which provides “Individual Assistance Funding” for victims through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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