|Tuesday, December 7, 1993
Section: PART A
Putting a Premium on Trust; Insurance: In the
struggle to rebuild after the recent fires, many
homeowners must rely on the word of insurers. Some have
become wary after riding a roller coaster of emotions.
By: REBECCA TROUNSON
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Loretta Edger does not think of herself as distrustful.
she was never the kind to make notes of conversations, or
ask anyone to
confirm an agreement in writing, or record phone calls.
She is now, though--at least when it comes to her home
Since Oct. 27, when the Laguna Beach brush fire consumed
stucco house on picturesque Buena Vista Way, Edger's
soared, crashed, lifted and then plummeted again, based
each time on
conversations with the Farmers Insurance Group.
Even now, despite a hard-won promise from Farmers that
she can rebuild
her house, she remains wary, afraid that all is not as it
"Why should I trust them now?" asked Edger, 53,
a widow and former
teacher who lives in Illinois and rents out her Laguna
house. "One day
I'm up, one day I'm down. One day I'm rebuilding, one day
I'm not. I
don't know whether to believe them anymore or not."
In the weeks since the fire, the issue of insurance
assumed paramount importance for the owners of more than
1,100 homes and
other structures that were destroyed or damaged in two
weeks of Southern
California fires. Edger's experience, while hardly
the struggles that come with attempting to rebuild life
from the ground
She and the other eight individuals and families whose
homes were lost
at the northern end of Buena Vista Way are spending long
comprehensive, minutely detailed lists of every picture,
book, article of
clothing or piece of furniture they can remember in the
homes they lost.
From friends, they are trying to collect photographs of
and valuables. And they are working with architects to
that were incinerated with the buildings, but are crucial
Edger, a friendly, straightforward woman with a
Midwestern accent and
short, graying hair, said she felt better last week when
she saw her
property looking a little less devastated.
She watched and took pictures as the workers cleared the
the last vestiges of the home she had shared with her
husband 14 years
ago. In 1980, a few months after her husband was killed
here in an
industrial accident, she and her children moved to
With the house--and a major part of her financial
Edger said nothing short of a written guarantee from
Farmers saying she
can afford to rebuild will ease her lingering concerns
about the future.
Farmers spokesman John Millen said he was reluctant to
specifics of Edger's claim, but acknowledged that the
company made some
mistakes in her case. Millen said the company has now
retroactively upgrade Edger's coverage, essentially
ensuring that she can
rebuild her home.
By late last week, just before Edger flew home to
spending nearly a month in Laguna Beach, Farmers
officials had provided
her with some details of her new coverage. The policy
increase the amount the company will pay toward
rebuilding her home, and
add to the amount she will receive in lost rent and
Other burned-out residents of Buena Vista Way have
difficulties in dealing with insurers in the days since
Thomas Homan, a businessman who carried top-of-the-line
his modern, stucco house, said last week he was well
satisfied with the
Allstate Insurance Cos.' response. So was George Cary,
dwelling also was covered by a deluxe Allstate policy.
Homan even pronounced his insurance carrier
"fantastic" in the way it
has treated him. "I can't even think of one bad
thing to say about them,"
Edger said her difficulties with her insurers began
before the ashes
of her 2,600-square-foot house were even cold.
On Oct. 28, the day after the fire, she tried to reach
agent by phone from Illinois. Hoping for advice about
what documents to
bring when she flew out to view the damage, she waited
for his call,
pushing her departure back several times, she said. The
agent called back
four days later, on Monday night.
To make matters worse, when she arrived in Laguna Beach,
she said she
was given conflicting information by her adjuster, Bill
Ellis, and other
Farmers representatives about what her "standard
form" fire insurance
policy would cover.
At one point, assured by a regional adjuster that she
would be able to
rebuild, Edger bought decorating magazines and spent the
about her new house. The next day, she said, she was told
would not be enough after all.
Millen said he could not discuss the details of Edger's
about her treatment. "But when honest mistakes are
made, we're going to
work closely with our customers to resolve those. We're
all people and
people make mistakes," he said.
Edger asked the California Department of Insurance to
her complaint, she also told state officials that she had
been stunned to
learn of the new law that requires insurers to inform new
those renewing policies about the availability of better
had renewed her policy by mail in August, one month after
the law took
California Department of Insurance spokesman Bill Schulz
complaint came relatively early in the insurance process,
but that she
appeared to have reached a dead end in her dealings with
Farmers. At the
least, she was not getting "the basic kind of
assistance one ought to
expect at this juncture," Schulz said.
Aware of the investigation, Farmers did not wait for a
the state before opting to give her extra coverage,
retroactive to the
time of the fire.
But the spokesman said Edger's new coverage may not cover
all costs to
meet building codes enacted since it was constructed in
the 1940s. That
coverage is not normally part of the "landlord
protector plus" policy
Edger will now have, but he called the distinction minor.
The company's decision to increase Edger's coverage well
$206,000 limit in her original policy was based on the
circumstances involved in her claim, he said.
When Edger and her children moved out of Laguna Beach in
changed her homeowners policy for the Buena Vista house
to reflect the
fact that it had become a rental property.
Six years later, the agent who sold her the insurance
He passed his clients on to agent Dennis DePrete. But
because Edger never
made a claim, she had little contact with DePrete and
never met him. Each
year, she renewed the policy by mail.
DePrete referred questions about Edger's situation to
manager Thomas Scheetz, and ultimately to Millen.
"She bought this policy from one agent, then she
moved away and in the
meantime her policy was transferred to another
agent," Millen said. "If
you don't have the opportunity to meet with someone,
things can get
garbled from time to time. But we're going to take care
of her. Given
these very unusual circumstances, we try to lean in the
But Farmers officials also told Edger they could put
writing for some time.
Still concerned, Edger was trying hard to feel reassured.
"I think I'm just going to have to try to trust
them," she said
finally. "I'd like to see it in writing, but I do
think now they have
every intention of doing what they have to do, if only to
keep me quiet."
---- START OF CORRECTION ----
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 23, 1993
Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 5 Metro Desk
2 inches; 52 words
Type of Material: Correction
Fire insurance--A Dec. 7 story on fire insurance concerns
Beach incorrectly implied that Farmers Insurance Group
violated a new
state law that requires insurers to inform new and
about the availability of better coverage. Although the
took effect July 1 for new policies, it does not apply to
after Jan. 1.
---- END CORRECTION TEXT ----
PHOTO: Near the remains of the house she owned,
explores design options for her new home with architect
PHOTO: Edger's emotions have soared, crashed, lifted and
plummeted again during her dealings with insurers.
"I think I'm just
going to have to try to trust them."
PHOTOGRAPHER: GAIL FISHER / Los Angeles Times
Descriptors: LAGUNA BEACH (CA); BRUSH FIRES -- ORANGE
COUNTY; PROPERTY DAMAGE; INSURANCE CLAIMS; DISASTER
Copyright (c) 1993 Times Mirror Company