Regulator says insurers can bring in out-of-state adjusters to help

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

- Insurance companies, already scrambling to bring in personnel from across the country to handle a surge in fire claims, got help today from California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

The commissioner said he had eased regulations to let insurance companies use more insurance adjusters -- the people who inspect damaged buildings and calculate the value of property losses -- from out of state. He also dispatched special consumer teams to the disaster area to monitor that insurance companies “fulfill their obligations to policyholders.”

The Department of Insurance estimated that fire losses would exceed $1 billion.

Poizner stresses that “most insurance companies . . . do the right thing,” but that 10% to 15% usually turn out to be “bad actors” and don’t fully pay claims.

At a series of news conferences, Poizner declared a so-called insurance emergency. The action allowed him to suspend a law that requires adjusters to be licensed by the state.

Under the declaration, insurance companies can bring in large numbers of out-of-state adjusters to help process thousands of claims. The unlicensed adjusters must work under the supervision of California-licensed colleagues.

“I want to ensure Californians that I will do all that I can to help them through this crisis and rebuild as quickly as possible,” Poizner said at a news conference. “For many, the first step on the road to recovery is to cut through the red tape, have their loss documented and processed for a claim.”

Poizner’s action will help insurers dispatch professional personnel to charred areas of Southern California, said Joseph Annotti, a spokesman for the Property and Casualty Insurers of America, a Chicago-based trade group that includes Allstate Corp., California’s third-largest home insurer.

“In the wake of [Hurricane] Katrina, we learned that even when insurers called out every adjuster they ever had on their payrolls, [and] people out of retirement, there still weren’t enough folks,” Annotti said. “If this helps get homes inspected more quickly and gets money to the people who need it more quickly, that’s a very positive thing.”