Montecito mudslides have come out to nearly $422 million in insurance claims

MONTECITO, Calif. (KABC) -- The Montecito mudslides have caused more than $421 million in damages, according to the latest string of insurance claims.

When a powerful winter storm struck the Southland in January, it inundated fire-scarred hillsides, especially those affected by the Thomas Fire above Montecito. A 30-foot tall wall of mud and rocks was unleashed on the small coastal community.

The latest filings show that more than 1,400 homes were damaged or destroyed, 235 commercial buildings were also damaged along with nearly 400 vehicles and other claims. The total comes to nearly $422 million.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said those numbers aren't estimates, but actual claims that have already been filed. He said that number will climb as claims are adjusted and new ones are filed.

That appears to be bad news for insurance companies, but it is good news for affected homeowners.

The vast majority of whom only have standard homeowner policies.

"It says right there - black and white - they're not going to cover mudslides," Jones said.

But Jones said his department invoked a rarely-used California law that states insurance policies cover wildfire damage and that the fires directly led to the mudslides. So insurers must cover the slide damage.

So far, he said, every insurer in the state has agreed.

"The Department of Insurance so far has no reported instances of an insurer denying a mudslide claim," he said.

The downside, homeowners across the state can look forward to higher premiums, and in some cases, a loss of coverage.

Last year's devastating wildfire season claimed 43 lives and left more than 10,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Based on those losses, Jones said insurance companies are updating what they charge and who they'll insure.

"This very well could be the new norm in California. More frequent, more severe and more predictable fires and losses related there, too," Jones said.
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