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AFTER THE RIOTS : L.A. Insurance Claims Will Hit $775 Million : Property: The figure makes the Los Angeles disturbances the most costly civil unrest in U.S. history.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Insurance claims from the Los Angeles riots will reach an estimated $775 million, industry officials said Wednesday, making the disturbances the costliest civil unrest in American history and the fifth-costliest U.S. catastrophe of any kind.

More than 6,000 damage claims--the vast majority on commercial property--have been filed since the outbreak of violence that began with the Rodney King verdict on April 29, according to an industry survey.

“Only Hurricane Hugo, the Oakland fire, the Loma Prieta earthquake and the ‘Siberian Express’ (winter storm) of 1983 caused more insured damage,” said Gary R. Kerney, director of catastrophe services for Property Claim Services, an industry group based in Rahway, N.J.

The claims estimate, which includes only insured losses, is more than four times the inflation-adjusted $183 million in claims from the 1965 Watts riots.

It does not include damage done to public facilities or the costs that state and local governments incurred in providing emergency and cleanup services, Kerney said.

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Neither does it include riot-related extra costs for unemployment insurance, health care, social services or loss of tax revenue. Another broad category of losses not included in the estimate are those of people and businesses that were uninsured or under-insured.

Other estimates have pegged the expected damages from the riot at more than $1 billion.

The California Department of Insurance has launched its own survey of riot-related damage. It will attempt to estimate losses to the uninsured and under-insured and to unlicensed insurers who sell coverage in California through “surplus lines” brokers, Deputy Insurance Commissioner Tom Epstein said.

“We have had disturbing reports that unlicensed carriers have incurred substantial exposure, especially in the Korean community,” he said. Epstein said he wants to be sure that insurers receiving such claims are financially able to cover them.

In arriving at its estimate, Property Claim Services said it surveyed 51 insurers, from Los Angeles to London, representing more than 85% of California’s commercial insurance market.

Kerney said it was a difficult catastrophe to gauge because the damage took many forms: fire, looting, broken glass, reduced business because of curfews and so on. In a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or storm, the damage tends to be more uniform, making it easier to extrapolate from a small sample of claims, he said.

Among large insurers, Farmers Insurance Group apparently leads the damage parade, with about 800 riot-related claims. The company was sticking with a dollar estimate of $70 million, but officials said that number could climb to $100 million or more.

State Farm Insurance estimated its damages at $41 million, with 400 claims reported to date. The California Fair Plan reported 514 claims totaling $37.4 million. Challenger Insurance estimated claims at $20 million.

Representatives of Gov. Pete Wilson said insurance payments--as the largest and earliest source of capital to arrive in the riot-torn areas--will be the financial backbone of the rebuilding effort.

Bonnie Guiton, secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency, said the size of the payout demonstrates that insurance is widely available in the inner city. “We had been led to believe that insurance companies had largely deserted these areas,” Guiton said.

But Epstein rejected that interpretation. In a telephone interview, he said his office still receives numerous complaints from inner-city insurance brokers that they are unable to get appointed as agents for larger insurance companies.

Top 10 Catastrophes Here is a list of the most costly events in terms of insurance losses, as compiled by the Insurance Information Institute:

Est. Loss Peril Year (in millions) 1 Hurricane Hugo 1989 $4,195 2 Oakland Fire 1991 $1,200 3 Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989 $960 4 Freezing Weather in 41 States 1983 $880 5 L.A. Rioting 1992 $775 6 Hurricane Frederic 1979 $752 7 Hurricane Betsy 1965 $715 8 Hurricane Alicia 1983 $676 9 Tornadoes in Denver 1990 $625 10 Hurricane Bob 1991 $543


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