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THE 6.6 QUAKE : On the Rebound: A Guide to Recovery and Resources : Navigating Insurance Waters

January 23, 1994

Even if you have applied for FEMA aid, it is important to also contact your insurance company or agent to file a claim for damages. You should file a claim against your various insurance policies for the following kinds of damage:

* Homeowners and Renters: if your home or personal property was damaged, or if you cannot live in your home. Most homeowners' and renters' insurance will pay limited housing assistance.

* Vehicle: if your vehicle was damaged.

* Medical: if you or a family member were injured or had a medical device, including eyeglasses, damaged.

* Dental: if you or a family member had a dental injury or had a dental device, including dentures, damaged.

TO FILE A CLAIM

* Gather all important papers that may be needed to file a claim. These may include various insurance policies, the deed to your home and an inventory of the contents of your home, including any photos or videos of your property.

* Review your policies. Does your policy include earthquake coverage? The typical homeowners' policy can have up to five separate coverage limits, including ones for structure, contents, landscaping and temporary living allowances. Also, review your other policies. For example, damage to your car may be covered under your automobile insurance and renters may be covered under their rental policies.

* Prepare a list of losses or damage to your property. Photos or videos are helpful when filing a claim. Save any receipts related to your loss, such as additional living expenses if you have to find other accommodations while repairs are made to your home.

* Phone your agent or company as soon as possible. Follow up your call in writing. Most claims must be made within a set period of time. Some useful questions to ask include:

Am I covered? Does my claim exceed my deductible? How long will it take to process my claim? Will I need to obtain estimates for repairs to structural damage?

* Consider alternate sources of recovery. You may be eligible for state or federal grants, loans or other forms of emergency assistance.

* If you are not clear on some aspect of your coverage, ask questions. If you need more time to file and process a claim, ask for it.

For more information:

* Western Insurance Information Service: (800) 397-1679.

* Insurance Information Institute: (800) 331-9146.

* National Insurance Consumer Helpline: (800) 942-4242, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.

If you have a dispute with an insurer:

* California Department of Insurance consumer hot line: (213) 897-8921.

BUYING INSURANCE

Earthquakes can wreak serious financial damage, whether you own or rent. After an earthquake, most companies put a 10- to 60-day moratorium on issuance of new quake coverage. Other things to know about earthquake insurance:

* Premiums are based on property value, type of construction and location.

* The cost for wood-frame construction ranges from $1.50 to $3.00 per $1,000 of coverage, depending on location. Lower rates apply in the central part of the state; higher rates in the coastal counties and thoses along fault areas. Coverage is typically written with a deductible of 10% of the insured value of the dwelling and contents.

* Earthquake-caused fires are typically covered under homeowners' policies.

* Coverage of aftershocks varies by company, says Patricia Lombard, director of the Western Insurance Information Service. "Aftershocks tied to an earthquake are covered under the initial claim so that the deductible would not apply again," she says. "But when two to four days separate the aftershock from the initial quake, it becomes more questionable whether it is an aftershock or a new quake." Ask before you buy.

* Renters can add earthquake insurance to an existing fire or renters' package to cover damage to household contents and personal belongings.

* Condo owners can buy insurance to cover the contents of their unit. Condominium associations sometimes buy coverage on the real property.

* Earthquake-caused damage to automobiles is not covered on an earthquake insurance policy, but it will be covered under most automobile policies.

* If you had substantial damage to your home, including exposing part of your home to outdoor weather, your insurance company will expect you to seal it off so rain will not cause more damage and to immediately make any necessary repairs to ensure your safety and the safety of your family and guests. If these repairs need to be done twice because aftershocks damaged the repairs, the insurer will pay to fix it again.

* If you do not have earthquake insurance and had substantial losses, you can claim a so-called casualty loss on your taxes, but only if you have unreimbursed damage in excess of 10% of your annual income, plus $100. For example, if you earn $50,000 a year, you can write off damages only in excess of $5,100.

* Once an area has been officially designated a federal disaster area, you have the option of claiming your casualty loss on the previous or current year's tax return. Keep receipts, photographs and other appropriate documentation to substantiate the claim.

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