Wine Country insurance wars: the clock is ticking

The psychological toll on Wine Country fire victims is growing as more and more find that they are so underinsured they may not be able to rebuild. 

Despite legislative efforts to help them, as well as future victims, it may end up way too little in too little time.  A United Policyholders survey shows that more than six months after the firestorms, 80 percent of fire victims have been unable to settle their claims.

In the audience of the state Senate Insurance Committee, there were victims from the Wine Country fires. Most of those we met we fighting back tears. They are hoping, against hope, that a package of proposed insurance reforms will save them from financial destruction.

"We've been with the same insurance company for over 40 years. And, we expected, when we had a problem that they would take care of us and they're not and it's a battle every step of the way," said fire victim Earl Small. 

The victims say they live in a gray world of hope and despondency, leaning more toward the latter. Fire victim Allison Lane never imagined that, with insurance, she'd be going through what she's going through.

"Gosh, no. It's like nothing we've ever been through. So you feel like you're very alone even though so many people are struggling in the same way and our hearts are with everyone going through this,” Lane said.  

As every day drags on without a settlement, their alternative living expenses grow shorter. "Without knowing what the resources are available, and I'm talking about labor and materials, it may come that when we get close to the end of our ALE, and sell our lot and take our insurance money and move to Oregon? Seattle? We don't know," said Richard Lane.

That's why these proposed laws, which the insurance industry opposes, are so critical to the victims and fixture victims. 

"All we can do is hope. Do I think they're actually gonna go through? No, I don't. But, we need help. We're people who have lost everything and the insurance companies are not stepping up to the plate and taking care of us. You know, it's a really sad,” said Small. 

Ironically, fire victim Patrick McCallum, who is himself a higher education lobbyist, worries that the rich and powerful insurance lobby will be able to leave so many victims without the full replacement settlement they thought they were paying for. 

"Yeah, they are a very powerful lobby in Sacramento and I am concerned. That's why I'm part of a group called ‘Up from The Ashes' that's been created by victims not only for the Northern California fires but Southern California," said McCallum. 

"We're all struggling. We’re all searching. We're all trying to figure out what we're gonna do," said Allison Lane.

And the clock is ticking.
 

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