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QUACKENBUSH SUPPORTS POLICYHOLDERS : COMMISSIONER SAYS COMPANIES SHOULD PAY LATE QUAKE CLAIMS.

Byline: Tony Knight Daily News Staff Writer

State Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush took the side of consumers Monday ruling that insurance companies should not deny paying claims simply because they are filed more than a year after an earthquake.

The Republican commissioner, who was criticized by consumer groups for not making the ruling earlier, said the one-year limit on filing a claim should run from the time damage is discovered.

``Clearly, this is a case of fairness,'' said Quackenbush, standing on the porch of Woodland Hills resident Barbara Shugar, who has been denied payment on more than $180,000 in damages by 20th Century Insurance because they say she filed her claim late.

The primary effect of the ruling is that it could help bolster the legal cases of Shugar and more than 450 other victims of the Northridge Earthquake who found latent damage long after the quake, and were denied payment under the limitation clause.

Consumer advocates said the 450 are only the tip of the iceberg and asserted that there are thousands of quake victims that fall into this category and are owed millions in compensation.

Insurance companies say homeowners reasonably should be able to determine the extent of any damage within a year after the quake. They say they are bound by state law that says policyholders have one year from their loss to file claims or challenge a claims adjuster's ruling.

The clock runs either from the date of the quake, or from the date that a claim is adjusted and the case closed by the insurer.

Quackenbush said the insurers are using the law as a shield to prevent the payout of millions in claims that were filed late only because the consumer didn't immediately know of the damage.

``If a trained insurance adjuster can't immediately spot damage right after a quake, then I certainly don't think policyholders should be held to a higher standard,'' he said in a statement Monday.

A tearful Shugar said 20th Century inspected her home briefly after the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge Earthquake and paid her $1,500 to repair damaged cinder-block walls. She said she was told that other damage was too slight to meet her $15,000 deductible.

More than a year later, a painter sandblasted her stucco walls only to find extensive cracks caused by the quake, she said. Also, a contractor friend pointed out a crack in her patio deck that turned out to extend into her slab foundation.

``My own opinion is that I paid 20th Century premiums for years, and I expected them to be able to come out and appraise the damage,'' said a tearful Shugar. ``This is a multibillion-dollar company, and they have a responsibility to protect me.''

Rick Hill, a 20th Century spokesman, said Shugar bought new carpet and flooring six months after the quake and should have called the company to inspect the foundation at that time.

He scoffed at Quackenbush's Monday ruling and termed the Woodland Hills press conference a ``political stunt.''

``He doesn't have the authority to change the law,'' Hill said.

Consumer groups also attacked Quackenbush saying the commissioner's Compliance Bureau had recommended he make the ruling last August. They charged Quackenbush ignored the recommendation and only acted after it was made public in hearings before the state Legislature.

``We've got a department that is stretched very thin, and we think this is the best step we can take to help consumers settle these cases,'' Quackenbush said in answering the criticism.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Policyholders can direct inquiries regarding quake insurance to the Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline, (800) 927-HELP. The department's Web site is http://www.insurance.ca.gov

CAPTION(S):

Photo, box

PHOTO (1) Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush inspects Barbara Shugar's home in Woodland Hills.

Michael Owen Baker/Daily News

BOX: FOR MORE INFORMATION (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 29, 1997
Words:641
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Next Article:STRIKE CLOSES BLOOD CENTERS.


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