California Wildfires Distress Insurance Market

Author, Chase Hixson, Account Executive, Human Services Group, Rancho Mesa Insurance Services, Inc.

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2018 saw the most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California. Over 1.8 million acres were burned; 22,751 buildings were destroyed and over 100 lives perished. As a result, insurance claims have exceeded $12 billion and are expected to rise.

Many in the industry expect we are on the verge of a crisis and from what I’ve seen so far, I’d have to agree. The marketplace is in frenzy as carriers aren’t sure what their overall financial hit will be. Furthermore, catastrophic losses like this affect the reinsurance marketplace, which causes pressure downstream to insurers.

Below is a look at what we are seeing in the marketplace.

Non-Renewals

Most carriers are non-renewing their entire books of business who are at risk of wildfires. Even if the client has been with the carrier many years with no losses, they are simply non-renewing properties on accounts in certain areas prone to wildfire. This is essentially leaving the marketplace with very few players.

Significant Premium Increases

Those carriers still willing to write property accounts are hiking up premiums significantly. We’ve heard of increases 5-10 times the previous year’s premiums. We recently spoke to an insured in the Riverside area whose insurance premium went from $85,000 to $500,000 a year. 

Increased Deductibles for Wildfires

On top of the significant premium increases, most carriers are offering increased deductibles for wildfires. It’s not uncommon to now see $150,000, $250,000 and $500,000 deductibles depending on the value of the building(s).

What Can Business Owners Do?

Business owners need to act early and quickly. Speak with a broker to plan ahead because it looks like there will be a significant financial burden and risk (per increased deductible) moving forward. The marketplace is inundated with excessive submissions, so the need to submit as early as possible is imperative. There are alternative insurance programs that can act as a temporary solution while helping alleviate cost burdens. Some declinations can be avoided by proper abatement of brush and trees or installation of fire suppression systems. Regardless of when the insurance policy renews, I suggest getting started on this as soon as possible. The marketplace could take several years to stabilize. 

For help understanding how wildfires can affect your organization’s insurance premium, contact me at (619) 438-6905 or chixson@ranchomesa.com.