Thu August 30, 2012

High Park Fire Victims Criticize Home Insurers

Dozens gathered tonight at a meeting organized to discuss home insurance policy problems encountered by High Park Fire victims.

Democratic State Rep. John Kefalas, who lead the discussion, set out the ground rules before testimony kicked off.

“It’s a chance for you to share your stories, and also for us to have a dialogue around identifying the issues and what are some potential solutions to help address the issues,” he said.

The three-hour long gathering, which was attended by state commissioner of insurance Jim Riesberg,had plenty of laughter, applause and tears.

Dale Snyder, who helped to organize the meeting, spoke first. He lost his home in Rist Canyon in the early days of the High Park Fire.

“Being required to list all personal contents is inhumane after a loss of this magnitude,” said Snyder, who paused several times to gain his composure. “The procedure of listing all personal items, where you purchased it, the date you purchased it, the amount you paid for it, the current market value and the replacement cost is extremely time consuming to say the least.”

Snyder and others were also frustrated with insurance policies that weren’t covering the cost of home rebuilding.

Trish Garner, who lived on Stratton Park Road, said that she didn’t find out her policy wouldn’t cover the full cost of rebuilding until after the fire.

"We can’t make a decision to rebuild if we’re not going to get our money,” she said. “It’s an ongoing fight.”

Many at the meeting were advocating for the state legislature to pass a so-called valued policy law, which is in place in 19 states. It requires insurers to pay the full limits of the policy.

Carole Walker with Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, a trade group, said she’s talking with legislators about solutions that won’t add cost to policies. With regard to inventorying home contents, she says companies do need a way of knowing what exactly people had in their homes.

“Most people don’t think of their insurance policy as a legal contract. Unfortunately it is. But we can try to make that policy easier for people,” she said.

Democratic State Rep. Claire Levy from Boulder, who introduced unsuccessful legislation last session after the Four Mile Canyon Fire, said she plans to introduce a new bill in 2013 to tighten regulations on insurance companies. She said the experiences between Four Mile and High Park victims is too similar to ignore.

“That tells me that was not a unique situation. We do have to address this,” she said. “I don’t want another season to go by and more people to lose their homes and not have the protection they thought they were paying for—in some cases for decades.”

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