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Waldo fire homeowners get chance to air issues

January 28, 2013

Homeowners took their Waldo Canyon fire insurance complaints to state and local officials Saturday.

During a four-hour meeting in Colorado Springs, many brought along 10-inch thick binders of insurance correspondence, videos of the 
June 26 firestorm and photos of gutted and damaged houses. They complained that, as one resident put it, “We have not been made whole.”

They demanded help with what they called insurance company “abuses” and asked for legislation to hold insurers accountable.

Representatives of the state Insurance Commission, which oversees such complaints, were on hand. About 200 people attended the meeting, which was organized by a new consumer group called Catastrophic Insurance Complaints in Colorado, whose members include victims of several Colorado fires.

The commissioners took notes furiously and said a formal hearing was a possibility if they get enough complaints and evidence of insurance company missteps. They noted only a handful of the homeowners had filed anything with state overseers.

No representatives from insurance companies spoke.

Some people whose homes were destroyed thought that they were the lucky ones, having received in many cases quicker claims payments.

But no one seemed to have escaped without encountering trouble from adjusters and other stresses they have faced since the fire destroyed 346 homes in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood 
June 26.

In one of the most dramatic moments of the day, Dr. Judy Brinkman unfurled towels on a table in front of the commissioners and poured soot and ash from a thermos bottle that she said was in her house.

Her insurance company told her they no longer paid for soot and ash cleanup, she said.

One adjuster told her the delays were because “You don’t have a grounder,” or destroyed home. On top of it all, Brinkman’s insurance rate was raised by $117 a month.

Others in the audience complained that insurance companies offered only a bit of light cleaning help when major work was needed.

One claimed an adjustor asked, “You want us to be Santa Claus?”

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Jim Reisberg told the crowd that his agency makes sure insurance companies meet contractual obligations.

But that means homeowners must meet their obligations under the contract, too. For most, that includes a one-year deadline for seeking damages.

“I cannot rewrite your contracts,” Reisberg said and noted that Colorado, unlike some states, does not have legislation to set deadlines.

He indicated that if enough complaints were obtained they could, however, hold a formal hearing to explore complaints that appear to be founded. “Give us the fodder. But I can’t tell you that the hearings would solve all the problems.”

Some residents said they feared complaining because it could make insurers less generous.

Boulder’s Democratic state Rep. Claire Levy introduced a bill last year that set claims deadlines at 24 months.

The bill was voted down by Republicans, she said at the meeting. “The vote was down party lines.”

She is going to introduce a similar measure this year.

Meanwhile, some members of the consumer group said they’re mulling taking the insurers to court with a class-action lawsuit.

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371

Twitter @mcgrawatgazette

Facebook Carol McGraw

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