2023 California Storms – Insurance Claim and Recovery Help

If your home or business has been damaged or destroyed due to high winds, wind-driven rain, fallen trees, the first step is to get your property/items started on the process of drying out and move ahead with restoring/repairing/replacing damaged or destroyed property.

The information you’ll find here and throughout our website can help you understand what types of damage are typically covered in a home insurance policy (wind-driven rain that enters through openings in the building envelope, tree damage, backed up sewers and drains, damaged culverts/drains) versus typically excluded (rising flood waters from an inundation, landslides, mudslides).  In almost all cases, property insurance policies exclude flood damage, mud and landslides unless triggered by a wildfire in the region.  A flood insurance policy (which very few Californians carry) covers flood damage and mudflow.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has put insurance companies on notice that he expects them to process claims quickly and fairly, and cover landslides and mudflow triggered by wildfires in the region. See: notice-re-coverage-for-mudslide-and-earth-movement

FEMA Individual Assistance has been approved for Calaveras, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz Counties.  To look up your address, visit: www.disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/address-lookup. If your disaster is eligible, SBA loans and FEMA resources will be available. Survivors can apply for federal aid, even if uninsured.  Disaster assistance may be able to fill insurance gaps or provide help if you’ve been waiting more than 30 days on a homeowner’s claim.

The IRS has extended the deadline to file certain tax returns to May 15th for storm victims in certain California Counties. View the IRS announcement here.

UP recommends focusing on drying out and preventing further damage, photographing and documenting damaged and destroyed property if you can access it, getting a complete current copy of your insurance policy, and finding temporary lodging that is comfortable and safe.  If you are unable to return to your home, you may be able to access insurance funds through your “Additional Living Expense” Coverage.

Tips on wind-driven rain, flooding and storm damage:

  • Do your best to prevent further damage and dry out your property to prevent mold growth.
  • Find and read the parts of your home or business insurance policy that explain what types of water damage is covered and excluded, including backed up sewers and drains and the definition of “flood” or “flooding”.
  • Check your deductible.  If damage is relatively minor and repair won’t be above your deductible, filing a claim may not be the smart move.  If your insurer isn’t going to pay it anyway, it’s best to avoid having the claim on your record/risk profile.
  • Focus on completely inventorying and valuing all damage and costs to repair or replace your property, regardless of your insurance situation.
  • Keep a diary of conversations with insurance, repair, government, and other professionals
  • Flood policies have different rules than home policies.
  • If you did not have flood insurance, there may still be damage that may be covered under your homeowner’s policy, depending on how it is written.  Examples could be wind-driven rain, sewage backup due to electrical failure of a pump or other device, other damage due to power outages or surges.
  • If you find yourself in a situation where a relatively recent wildfire burned hillsides and areas near your home and caused mud or debris flow that damaged your property, you can make a claim under your home policy, (even if you have no coverage for flood damage) on the grounds that the fire (a covered peril) caused the flow that caused the damage.  More information can be found here.
  • Give your home and/or flood insurer a chance to do the right thing, but advocate for yourself and get help from the California Department of Insurance and/or experienced professionals if you feel you’re not being treated fairly.
  • If a home or flood insurance adjuster says damage isn’t covered, but you feel it should be, get an independent professional opinion before giving up on getting some or all of your claim paid.

UP offers tips, information, sample letters and tools to help each person recover the full amount they’re entitled to and avoid and solve problems during the insurance claim adjustment process.  Our resources draw on the personal and professional expertise of our volunteers and staff, many of whom lost homes in past disasters.  UP does not sell insurance, give legal advice, or represent individuals in claim matters.  Rest assured, our information and resources are designed to help you, the consumer…no catch, no hidden agenda. Sign up on the right hand side of this page to receive information and alerts from United Policyholders.

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Expert Answers to Your Questions:  The ”Ask an Expert” tool is an easy and safe way to ask direct questions to attorneys, claims professionals and previous disaster survivors who serve as UP volunteers and get the answers you need. The expert doesn’t see your contact info, but you can contact them if you want to follow up on their answer. Please visit the “Ask an Expert” forum here.