Calif. fire victims often underinsured

AUBURN, Calif. Stanley Collis's dream home has a gorgeous view of the American River Canyon. But with conditions so dry, he knows it's vulnerable to fire.

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"I think I do have enough insurance to cover my house, because my house is only two and a half years old, and I know what it cost to build it. I built it," said Stanley.

A new report finds Collis is the exception. Consumer group United Policyholders surveyed 300 victims from last fall's Southern California fires. Three-quarters complained they were underinsured - up to $300,000 short each - to rebuild their home.

"It is very traumatic for victims, who are doing their best on the road to recovery, to find out that the insurance safety net that they thought they had has a giant hole," said Amy Bach from United Policyholders.

The insurance industry and consumer groups widely disagree over who's to blame for this underinsurance problem. They point the finger at each other. Do homeowners skimp on coverage to keep their premiums low? Or do insurance companies underinsure purposely to keep payout checks smaller?

"There's no plot or scheme going on the insurance industry to hold back coverage. Again, what we do is provide information to the homeowner, and then at the end of the day the homeowner makes the decision of what coverage should be purchased," said Sam Sorich from the Association of California Insurance Companies.

Some of the victims of last month's big fire in the Santa Cruz mountains may be finding out they're underinsured.

Collis can't imagine being in that situation.

"I don't know what you do," said Collis.

United Policyholders says to check your policy. It estimates property coverage should roughly be the square footage of the home multiplied by $250 to $350.

Click here for information from United Policyholders on how to avoid the underinsurance crisis


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