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California’s 2018 wildfires cost insurers $845 million

California’s 2018 wildfires cost insurers $845 million

Insured losses from the Carr and Mendocino Complex wildfires in California this year have topped $845 million, according to the California Department of Insurance.

More than 10,000 claims have been filed due to insured losses from the July 2018 wildfires, the department said Thursday in a statement. Residential personal property claims have been responsible for the vast majority of insured losses, with 8,891 claims and $820 million in insured losses to date, while commercial property claims constituted 329 claims with insured losses of $12.4 million, and 805 auto and other claims resulted in insured losses of $12.4 million.

“Our wildfire history tells the story of how our fire season has changed over the years from a four-month season to a year-round threat,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in the statement. “Over the past two decades, the frequency and severity of wildfires has increased and caused significant property damage and the tragic loss of life in the wildland-urban interface areas of the state. Even more troubling is that areas once considered not to be high risk are now being scorched by wildfires.”

Insured losses from the state’s 2017 wildfires and Montecito mudslide in January now top $13 billion, consisting of $10.8 billion in residential personal property insured losses, $1.8 billion in commercial property and $380 million in auto and other lines, the department reported.

A new report co-authored by the department called “Trial by Fire: Managing Climate Risks Facing Insurers in the Golden State,” also published Thursday, outlines how climate change is contributing to wildfire losses.

“The science is settled; an industry is vulnerable,” the report said, citing drought conditions that led to the record-breaking wildfire losses in 2017 and the certainty that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and their impacts, particularly on the insurance industry.

“The added litigation events arising out of these and other climate-related events are creating liability exposure for the insurance industry of a magnitude that could ultimately swamp the property losses,” the report stated. “Moreover, insurers’ own assets — accumulated to pay claims and shareholders — are vulnerable to climate impacts as well, creating the potential for serious systemic risks. Climate change has thus become a multi-faceted material risk for the $4.6 trillion global insurance industry. Many insurers and reinsurers have fashioned a range of responses, some focused on reducing their exposures and others on disclosing vulnerabilities and mitigating the root causes of climate change through actions in the core business of underwriting as well as asset management, but preparedness must be further improved.”

Regulators and commercial insurers should continue looking for market-based solutions to manage these risks, including refining insurance pricing and contract design to more precisely reflect climate risks and incentivize mitigation efforts, championing and improving climate risk disclosure, supporting innovation in loss modeling, data science, and stress testing, and identifying and mitigating barriers to green insurance and risk reduction, among other best practices, according to the report.


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