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The "Farmers Insurance News-Alert" website is dedicated to providing the consumer and general public with detailed information concerning the Farmers Insurance Group. This includes fraud reports, consumer complaints, lawsuit's and other legal actions taken against this company. All information contained herein is for educational purposes only. Original sources, when known are sited.

 

Friday, October 25, 1991

Insurers, Clients Pick Up Pieces After Fire

By: NANCY RIVERA BROOKS and MARTHA GROVES
TIMES STAFF WRITERS


John Miles had lived all his nearly 55 years in the 14-room house his father built in the Oakland hills. On Thursday, he picked over its charred ruins with the help of a Glendale insurance claims adjuster.

"It's a hell of a job," Miles said as he photographed the melted, rusted remains of what had been a garage full of tools. "It's hard to believe the amount of devastation."

Much of the financial impact of the devastation is still to be determined by property-casualty insurers. They are tallying their losses from the Oakland-Berkeley fire, which a trade group has called the second-costliest disaster in U.S. history, with $1.2 billion in insured losses.

The worst hits surely will be borne by State Farm, Allstate and Farmers--the state's Big Three home insurers--but all say they have more than adequate reserves to cover the losses as well as re-insurance firms to share the pain.

State Farm on Thursday boosted its loss estimate to $350 million, which pales beside the company's $18-billion reserve. So far, the company has received 850 claims, spokeswoman Marcela Iglesias said.
Allstate weighed in at $128 million. Farmers Insurance expects its losses to exceed $100 million.

"Industry bashers say, 'These companies are ripping us off. Look at the surpluses they have,' " said John Millen, spokesman for Farmers Insurance. "They don't put it in the context that this is the policyholders' surplus to pay claims." Farmers' surplus is about $2 billion.

The most immediate concern is finding policyholders, some of whom were too devastated initially to remember to call their insurance company. Insurers are bringing in "cat" teams--short for catastrophe--who are visiting shelters and cruising neighborhoods looking for clients. They are advertising special 800 numbers and are writing checks for emergency living expenses. USAA has even mobilized a special shopping team to help its clients replace the odds and ends of their lives.

"They do everything from just your mundane replacement to if you had estate china and you want to replace it, we'll find it for you," spokesman Hal Schade said. The San Antonio-based company's losses are
expected to top $60 million.

One particularly odd sight: MetLife--a life insurer, not a home insurer--sent its blimp cruising over Oakland on Wednesday reminding people to "Get Met."

His forehead smudged with ashes as he walked through the vestiges of his Oakland hills home, Miles clicked off a list of irreplaceable collections that his grandfather, father and he had amassed: Civil
War-era postage stamps, coins, 75 glass paperweights, a museum-quality group of Indian artifacts, old Bibles.

Although many of the items were not insured, the house was, and Miles was grateful that Albert Martinez, a field representative with Charlotte, N.C.-based Royal Insurance, arrived to assess the damage so quickly.
But not every experience has been a happy one.

As uninsured renters, Gregg and Stephanie Chow were still reeling from the shock of losing everything after their apartment complex was reduced to ashes. Then Gregg found out that his treasured 1967 Mustang, his first car from high school days, was not covered for fire damage by Mercury Casualty, a unit of Los Angeles based-Mercury General.

"I knew that I didn't have collision (coverage) on it, but it was never expressed to me that it was not covered for fire or theft. . . . It could have been my fault for not knowing," the 27-year-old Chow said. "But to find out in a time of need they weren't going to come through for me, to find out the insurance company that I've been pouring money into for the last 10 years is not going to stand behind me, is very nerve-wracking," he said.

To cope with claims, insurance companies have brought in scores of adjusters from across the country and set them up in special command centers created, in some instances, overnight. State Farm has 120 people working the disaster, Iglesias said. The company has leased four mobile homes as roving claims offices, providing a refreshment- and restroom-equipped place for adjusters and policyholders to relax and fill out papers.

Policyholders of Allstate, a Sears, Roebuck & Co. unit with about 100 adjusters in the area, can cash their claims checks at Sears stores and receive discounts on merchandise there, said Robert Ushana, property
claims manager for the Oakland area. Another Sears unit, Coldwell Banker, is lining up vacant homes and apartments for those displaced by the fire. "We have a catastrophe plan that we work off of," said Pat Hillis of Safeco Insurance, which brought in 69 extra claims adjusters. "It sounds terrible, but it's also very calming that this is what we do best. This is why people have been paying their premiums all these years." Safeco is
estimating its losses at $40 million, about half of which will be handled by re-insurance provided by companies that, in essence, insure the insurance companies.

The claims adjusters, many of whom will be based in Oakland a month or more, are having to add "psychiatrist" or "counselor" to their list of regular business skills.

"You're dealing with people who are devastated, and they unload on you," Iglesias said.

Rivera Brooks reported from Los Angeles and Groves from Oakland. RELATED STORIES: A1, A3
Estimated Oakland Fire Losses The possible $1.2 billion in insured losses from the Oakland-Berkeley
fire will be spread among a variety of insurance companies. Here are some of the estimates--which are subject to revision--from the area's big insurers.

* Farmers Insurance: $100 million plus

 

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