SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - For those directly impacted by the storms and mudflow disaster in Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, the type of homeowners insurance will determine if losses and expenses are covered.
Those in the insurance business say a typical homeowners insurance policy will not cover losses or expenses caused by flood, mudslide or mudflow but a flood insurance policy will.
"Some of the things to think about a flood is what constitutes a flood, what is considered a flood, so there's different definitions that go along with that", said Marie Bloomstine with Morris & Garritano Insurance Services in San Luis Obispo, "a flood is considered by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as a general or temporary condition, partial or complete inundation of more than two acres of what would normally be dry land, it has to consist of two properties, so it has to be your property and at least one other adjacent property and it can come from overflow of inland or tidal water, unusual or rapid accumulation of runoff or surface water or it can be caused by mudflow."
"That's where the confusion comes in is what is the difference between a mudflow and a mudslide", Bloomstine said, "mudflow is something that is covered under a flood policy whereas mudslide is not."
But legal experts say if a mudflow, like what happened in Montecito, is caused by another event, in this case the Thomas Fire, losses and expenses may be covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy.
"Landslides and mudslides are earth movement, while mudflow is a river of liquid and flowing mud on the surfaces of normally dry land areas, as when earth is carried by a current of water", said Santa Barbara-based attorney John Thyne, "with mudflow, the primary ingredient is water, so flood insurance will typically cover parts of this loss, normally $250,000 for homeowners and $500,000 for businesses."
"But when the mudflow was caused by rain following a fire that burned trees and vegetation that would have otherwise prevented it, California follows the “efficient proximate cause” standard", Thyne said, "when a loss is caused by two separate or distinct perils, each of which could have caused the loss independently, the claim is covered by insurance if a covered peril is the “efficient proximate cause” of the loss. This is true even when an excluded peril may have also contributed to the loss."
"In the Montecito mudflow disaster, it is very likely most homeowners will be able to prove that the recent wildfires were the “efficient proximate cause” of the mudflow and any damages that occur including Additional Living Expenses for those who are evacuated [rent, furnishings, increased food costs, pet boarding, mileage, etc..] will be covered by insurance", Thyne adds.
"Do not take no for an answer if you are denied coverage", Thyne advises, "take photos of everything (land, house, personal property, cars, mailboxes, etc.), when you can, to prove damages and keep every single receipt from the date of the loss until your last payment. It adds up quickly and will often exceed your deductible. Many policies (renters or owners) cover evacuations with no deductible even without damage to your property. "
Central Coast U.S. Representatives Salud Carbajal and Julia Brownley are urging President Trump to reconsider denial of FEMA Individual Assistance funds for the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides and flooding.
FEMA Individual Assistance programs can help victims rebuild homes and businesses by potentially releasing additional direct federal aid including housing assistance, disaster unemployment assistance and crisis counseling.
"The devastation from the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides have taken the ultimate toll on our community, claiming dozens of lives, destroying hundreds of homes, and hurting small businesses on the Central Coast”, Rep. Carbajal said in a joint statement, "Individual Assistance funding is critical to supporting the victims of the tragedies as our community rebuilds and recovers."
"I am hopeful that President Trump will carefully reconsider his earlier decision to deny victims of the Thomas Fire access to FEMA’s Individual Assistance programs", Rep. Brownley said in the same statement, "these programs would provide much-needed aid for families and businesses who are working to recover from this devastating tragedy and will help our community continue to rebuild. I appreciate all of the assistance FEMA has provided thus far and hope that this appeal will be successful."