State Farm Affirms Thomas Fire and Flood Linked, Has Covered Claims

Other Insurers Are Taking It 'Claim by Claim'

The living room of a home in disarray on Olive Mill Road
Brandon Yadegari

State Farm representatives have confirmed the insurance company has covered debris flow damage resulting from the Thomas Fire to policyholders in Montecito, the first insurance company to do so publicly. Couching his words carefully, Sevag Sarkissian said State Farm engineers have “determined that the predominant cause of the debris flow was a recent wildfire.” At issue for homeowners has been whether their property insurance, which covers fire, will include mud or flood damage if they did not have flood insurance.

Sarkissian added that each claim would be investigated to see what coverages applied to each specific set of circumstances. The storms of January 8-11 have generated more than 800 claims for State Farm, he said, mostly in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties.

“Each insurance company is taking it claim by claim in the Montecito area,” said Janet Ruiz of the Insurance Information Institute, which captures data industry-wide. “Normally after a flood and mudslide,” she went on, “I’d be saying ‘not covered.’ The difference here is that I’m saying that they’re looking at it. There may be coverage.” She said nothing was certain — it depended on each property’s specific location and circumstance of loss. “We’re telling everyone to put their claim in. Then coverage will be determined.”

Ruiz’s office, located near Santa Rosa, has been giving that statement frequently. “What a year it’s been, what a lot of catastrophes,” she said. “It’s been hard to see everyone lose so much.”

To try to leverage some legislative help for homeowners, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson recently introduced a bill — S.B. 917 — to clarify that damage from a landslide attributable to a cause, like wildfire, would be covered under a homeowner policy that covers wildfire. “For many Californians, their home is their nest egg, and the result of a lifetime of hard work,” Jackson said in a press release. “This is a question of justice and fairness for these residents, many of them retirees, and any Californians who find themselves in similar situations.” A hearing on the bill has yet to be scheduled.

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