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Colorado lawmakers want to help wildfire victims with insurance process

Denver7 Investigates found many Marshall fire victims are underinsured
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Posted at 8:00 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-12 00:29:18-05

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — Most Marshall fire victims are determined to come back, determined to rebuild their lives and their neighborhoods. But Denver7 Investigates found most victims are underinsured, even those who recently updated their policies.

“Why is this acceptable? As a society, we should do better to protect the people of our towns and the lives they’ve built,” said Shaun Howe, who lost her Louisville home in the fire.

Howe said she updated her insurance policy a month before the fire and is still being told she’s underinsured by between $400,000 and $600,000.

“The insurance companies, in my opinion, should be required to keep up to date with their estimates,” she said.

Colorado State Sen. Bob Rankin represents multiple counties on the Western Slope, many of which were recently impacted by wildfires.

“There were four major wildfires in my district in 2020, so I feel a real responsibility,” Rankin said.

Rankin is also aware of the underinsurance problem Marshall Fire and other wildfire victims are facing.

“I don’t think anybody is to blame, actually. I think the insurance companies have offered a product, in many cases, with options. It’s an issue of public awareness. It’s an issue of understanding the risk,” he said.

Rankin said mandating insurance coverage is tricky because it would come at a high cost for everyone.

“We can’t mandate that everybody in the Front Range buys an expensive policy because everybody is not at the same risk,” he said.

However, Rankin does see the need to update the risk areas for wildfires and to potentially include suburban neighborhoods like Superior and Louisville, where no one expected this kind of disaster.

“And that would lead to what kind of insurance do you need, depending on the risk area,” he said.

Rankin has also sponsored legislation this session to make the insurance process easier for wildfire victims.

HB22-1111 would force insurance providers to pay more up front for personal property claims. These are claims that cover the contents inside a home. Currently, homeowners only get 30% of their policy value up front, then must write out itemized lists of everything they’ve lost to get the rest from their insurance company.

“It’s just agonizing for people to have to do that,” Rankin said.

But the legislation is already too late for Marshall wildfire victims.

“I think we need better regulations, and we need better consumer protections,” Howe said.

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway said the state is actively working to figure out how large the underinsurance problem really is with the Marshall Fire.

“There is a potential underinsurance problem when you have large-scale disasters,” he said.

Insurance experts stress it is on the homeowners to update their insurance policies every year, but many victims who did are reporting their policies are still falling short.

“It really is a two-party contract between the insurance company and the individual, so there really are responsibilities on both sides,” said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.