April 2, 2018 / 6:49 PM / 8 months ago

California mudslide insurance losses exceed $421 million: regulator

FILE PHOTO: Boulders surround a mud-filled property after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

(Reuters) - A series of deadly mudslides along Southern California’s coast in January caused more than $421 million insured losses, the state’s insurance commissioner said on Monday.

Insurers received more than 2,000 claims, including 1,415 for homes that were partially damaged and 107 for homes that were totally destroyed, said California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones during a media presentation.

The fast-moving mudslides, which struck in Santa Barbara County and killed 21 people, also triggered 240 claims for commercial property losses and 315 for personal and commercial auto insurance losses, Jones said.

The total sum of insured losses is likely to rise as insurers adjust claims, Jones said.

Homeowner insurance typically does not cover mudslides, which insurers view as a type of “earth movement.” But insurers may sometimes cover the damages if another covered peril, such as fire, caused the mudslides.

Jones, in late January, told insurers they were obliged to cover the mudslide damages upon a finding that wildfires, which ravaged the region during the weeks before the mudslides, spurred the disaster.

Heavy rains pounded parts of Southern California after the Thomas Fire, the largest fire in the state’s history, swept through the region in mid-December.

Preliminary evidence suggested that the Thomas Fire burned vegetation that would otherwise have absorbed rainfall and held soils in place, Jones said in January.

Insurers are recognizing a probable link between the fires and the mudslides and have been paying mudslide claims, Jones said.

Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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