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Iowa tornadoes prompt reckoning on insurance appraisal bill

Iowa Tornadoes
Posted at 2:55 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-08 15:55:35-05

Two days after a series of tornadoes destroyed several Iowa homes and businesses, lawmakers considered changes to a bill that would alter a key step in making an insurance claim.

House File 2299 restricts the appraisal process, stating that appraisers shall not settle disputes between insurance companies and individuals about how damage occurred. Instead, the appraisers could only determine the cash value of a loss.

The House voted unanimously to pass the bill in late February, with no floor debate on the issue.

But after a line of storms swept through Iowa on Saturday, a Senate subcommittee took a hard look at the proposal.

“This past weekend, we had horrific disasters across our state, including in my community,” said Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant. “… While this bill passed the Iowa House on a largely bipartisan or completely bipartisan package, I want to make sure that we have a bill that really takes care of the policy owner first, specifically those who have been impacted by catastrophic loss.”

Insurance companies maintained the bill would be a good change. Iowa Insurance Institute lobbyist Brittany Lumley said a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision broadened the power of appraisers, allowing them to consider the cause of damage. She argued HF 2299 would return appraisers to the role they had before that decision.

“It’s just making sure that the appraisers stick to the loss and the cost of the damage, as opposed to the coverage and causation disputes, which are best left to the courts,” Lumley said.

Cedar Rapids lawyer Tim Johnson disagreed.

Johnson represented Walnut Creek Townhome Association in the 2018 Iowa Supreme Court case. Walnut Creek made a claim to Depositors Insurance Company for hail damage to the roof. Depositors said the damage was not caused by hail, but then a panel of appraisers determined hail did cause $1.4 million worth of damage to the roof.

Following a series of court decisions, the Iowa Supreme Court decided appraisers had the power to determine the cause of damage in addition to the cost.

“This didn’t change the law in Iowa,” Johnson said. “This upheld what had been the law in Iowa since 1940.”

Lawmakers on the Senate subcommittee did not immediately move the bill.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach opposed the proposal, arguing it would require more insurance disputes to go to court.

“Trying to recover from all of those damages is enough of a burden – and not just for the individual homeowner, for the business community, for the whole of the community,” Quirmbach, D-Ames said. “Having to fight your way to court in order to get a decent settlement… seems to me to be not in the interest of the general public and the insurance customers.”

Nunn asked stakeholders to propose amendments to the legislation before it moved to a full committee.

“Expeditiously being able to put legislation forward that helps these folks, whether it be from the derecho two years ago or what just happened this weekend, is our top priority,” Nunn said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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