For those evacuated during the wildfires, as well as others who discovered that homes and vehicles were destroyed, their first thought after ensuring the safety of family members was how to pay for lodging and out of pocket expenses in the wake of this disaster.
Responding to this urgent need, insurance carriers have accelerated advance payments to their clients to cover expenses during the weeks following evacuations and have already cut checks or wired funds directly to member’s bank accounts. Additional amounts are also available to pay living expenses for up to a year or more while assessments and adjustments are being made of covered home and auto losses.
To provide on-site support, “insurance villages” have been established in the parking lots at major shelter sites where mobile vans, tent pavilions and teams of representatives from major insurance companies meet face-to-face with their members.
At the Finley Center on College Avenue in Santa Rosa, for example, State Farm, Nationwide (Safeco), Liberty Mutual, The Hartford, Allstate (EnCompass) USAA and other companies are available to assure members that these companies have their back. Mobile insurance vans are also located at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds.
In Napa County, among the sites are at the Local Assistance Center at 2751 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Building A and at Napa Valley County College. The California Department of Insurance has a presence at both Napa and Sonoma Local Assistance Centers.
Onsite insurance company representatives who say a significant number of clients have not yet come forward to submit a claim, or don’t think it is necessary to report their losses from this catastrophic event right away.
Fire victims can also apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in person at local assistance centers, by calling 800-621-3362 or going online (www.disasterassistance.gov). When calling, be prepared to provide your Social Security number, address of damaged home or apartment, description of the damage, information about insurance coverage, telephone number, mailing address as well as bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds.
David Wong, spokesperson for State Farm Insurance, said members should call 800-SFclaim (800-732-5246) to start the process that takes less than 15 minutes. They can also contact their local agent. He said clients should be prepared to provide policy numbers. If they are not available, the company can look up the policy record by name and address.
“We had over 3,500 claims in the days following the start of these fires,” Wong said. “Our agents are telling those affected to save all receipts related to expenses since they may be covered under deductibles. Also start making lists of items lost, damaged or destroyed. This is a long process, especially if people lost everything, but we are committed to getting claims settled as quickly as possible.”
John Moreno, manager of public affairs for AAA of Northern California, said the carrier is paying for any living expenses plus providing members with a $2,500 debit card during the first weeks after experiencing fire-related losses.
“I live in Napa and words can’t describe the chaos and confusion caused by the firestorm,” Moreno said. “We had more than 2,000 claims initially and cover both home and auto damage. We set a goal of getting money into our client’s accounts within 36 hours. In addition, we cover the full value of vehicles, and AAA has a national relationship with Hertz to provide free car rentals for our members. For the purchase of new vehicles, we refer members to AAA preferred dealers.”
Tips for Insurance Claims
• Obtain a complete copy of your insurance policy.
• Ask for a cash advance for immediate personal expenses and ongoing living expenses from your insurance carrier.
• Take photos of your debris (and/or damage inside and out of your home) before it is carted away.
• Start and keep a claim journal diary and write down dates, those you spoke with and anything important that has to do with your insurance claim.
• Keep this diary running continuously throughout the recovery phase.
• Don’t rush into signing contracts during the first weeks after a loss.
• Avoid making major financial decisions.
Source: United Policy Holders