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#951 Earthquake: Insurance Coverage and Claims

Here’s the smart way to get information about insurance coverage and claims for earthquake damage to your home, apartment, personal belongings, automobile, or business. Tips for filing insurance claims are discussed in the last part of this message. Please have a pen and paper ready to write information you may need later, such as phone numbers.

The first part of this message concerns insurance coverage for your home, apartment, and personal belongings.

Most Southern California homes and apartments are not covered by earthquake insurance. Standard homeowners or renters policies do not cover earthquake damage. However, damage from fire or water that results from an earthquake may be covered under your standard policy. If you sustained loss to art, jewelry, antiques or similar items, check your policy to see that it lists these specialty items and call your agent.

If you do have a special earthquake insurance policy for your home or apartment, generally, both the structures and its contents are covered. However, deductibles are often quite high, and may be higher than the value of your claim. Earthquake insurance varies greatly, but policies typically cover quake-related expenses such as rental costs for temporary housing, costs related to removing debris, immediate repairs, protection of property, and storage of removed furniture and other property. If you own a condominium, remember to check the coverage provisions in both your condominium association’s policy as well as your individual unit owner policy.

If you do not have separate earthquake coverage, or if your standard policy does not list specially scheduled items, or if you were not insured at the time of the earthquake you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA. To register for assistance by telephone, call (800) 621-3362. That’s 800-621-3362 or by accessing

If you are concerned about purchasing earthquake insurance, call your homeowners insurance company or your insurance agent for more information.

The next part of this message concerns insurance coverage for your automobile or other vehicle.

If your auto has been damaged or destroyed in the earthquake, either get a copy of your policy or call your agent to determine whether your auto insurance is “comprehensive” and covers losses resulting from earthquakes. If your auto insurance is “comprehensive” items in the car may be covered as well. But any damage or injury caused by the automobile is covered by all automobile policies.

The next part of this message concerns insurance coverage for your business.

If your business has been damaged by the earthquake, call your insurance agent and check your commercial property policy, business interruption insurance, or data processing coverage. This coverage’s may have earthquake exclusions or significant deductibles. You should know, that if you run your business from home, most homeowner’s policies do not cover business losses.

If you need information about insurance coverage available to small businesses, call the Department of Insurance at (800)927-4357. That number again is
(800) 927-4357 or by visiting

To request building inspections at your place of business, call Building and Safety in Los Angeles County, call (626) 458-3173.

The last part of this message concerns filing claims.

No matter what kind of insurance you have, it is important to file your claims as soon as possible. File your claims even if you are not sure that there is coverage and even if you don’t know whether your claim will exceed the deductible. Failure to notify the insurance company can delay the resolution of your claim and jeopardize coverage.

When filing claims with your agent, broker, or insurance company, keep the following points in mind:

  • Request that an insurance adjustor look at your property before you make any significant repairs.
  • If circumstances allow, collect supporting evidence of the loss. If at all possible, try to inventory all damaged or destroyed property; take pictures; collect names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses; obtain repair estimates; keep a record of expenses you are incurring such as hotel receipts for alternative housing; and for all lost items try to identify the place, date, and amount of purchase.
  • Take whatever steps are reasonable to protect the property from further damage.
  • If your situation is desperate, make sure you tell that to the insurer or agent. If the insurer agrees that there is coverage, ask for an advance payment towards the loss.
  • If you make your claim by telephone, follow up in writing to confirm.
  • Be patient, if necessary; contact the California Department of Insurance for assistance regarding your insurance carrier’s response. You can reach the California Department of Insurance at (800) 927-4357. That number again is (800) 927-4357 or by accessing
  • Consult with a lawyer before signing any release or waiver or before cashing any check that may be deemed full or final payment of the claim.
  • If the insurance company denies coverage or if you do not agree with the amount they’ve offered to settle your claim, demand that the insurance company put their reasons in writing and consult with an attorney.

If you need to hire an attorney, press 199 now to be connected with a SmartLaw Referral representative. You can also call (213) 243-1525 or visit

For more information about what the Smartlaw Referral & Information Service can do for you, listen to message 103. If you need low-cost of free legal assistance, listen to message 104 through 112.

To hear a list of other earthquake-related information messages, press 950.

Would you like to listen to another message? If so, press the three-digit message number now.

This message was brought to you by SmartLaw, the nation’s oldest and largest Lawyer Referral & Information Service, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Association. This message has provided legal information and is not intended to take the place of the advice of a lawyer. If this has been helpful, please tell your friends and family about the service.

Thank you for calling the Smartlaw Information Line, the smart way to get legal information.

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