Soot, Smoke and Ash Claims Expertise

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With wildfires on the rise, smoke and ash claims can arise under the insured’s homeowners and commercial property policies.   In addition, in terms of fires closer to the property, soot claims can arise as well.  Soot, smoke and ash can cause property damage ranging from minor (where professional cleaning can return the property to its pre-fire condition) to major, where the penetration of smoke, soot or ash into mechanical units (air conditioning; heating; pumps and related ducts) and building components like carpets, insulation, dry wall and curtains, is significant.

Examples of fires that can inflict such damage can range from both distant and close in wildfires, neighborhood fires and fires within the affected building itself.  The damage can be visible and apparent as well as not visible (i.e., in ducts and between walls).

As to whether the policy at issue covers damage, only a review of the policy at issue and the facts can determine coverage.   Depending on the policy and the facts, smoke damage that impacts structures (walls etc.) can be covered by the dwelling coverage.  Smoke damage to rugs and the like can be covered under the contents coverage.

As an expert witness with significant experience both with respect to determining whether there is coverage in the first instance (for soot, ash and smoke) and then determining whether the insurer has or has not met its claim handling obligations, I have testified in a number of cases with such claims, both for policyholders and for insurers.  My background can be summarized as follows:

The expertise required for such claims includes: (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance policies and their coverages, (iii) insurance companies and their duties and obligations in particular as to claims relating to smoke, soot and ash.  Set out below is my specific expertise as to each.

SOOT, ASH AND SMOKE EXPERTISE AS TO HOMEOWNERS AND COMMERCIAL PROPERTY INSURANCE POLICIES.

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: State Insurance Regulation.  My expertise as to these matters can be found as follows: I am a former:

  • Commissioner of Insurance (Iowa);
  • First Deputy Commissioner of Insurance; and
  • Assistant Attorney General assigned on a full-time basis to the Department of Insurance (Iowa) [1].
  • Administrative Law Judge, f/k/a Hearing Officer;

In those capacities, on a daily basis, I had full regulatory oversight and responsibility for and the application of: (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims. [2]

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: National Insurance Regulation.  My related regulatory expertise as to these matters can also be found as follows: I am a former:

  • Member of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), and
  • Elected Member of its Executive Committee,
  • As a Member of the Executive Committee, I had legislative oversight over all committees, including the so-called “C” Committee, that is, the Property and Casualty Committee, which had oversight over most all homeowners and commercial property insurance issues;

In those capacities, on a daily basis, I had full national insurance regulatory oversight and responsibility for and the application of: (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Legislative - Current.  In addition to my insurance regulator background at both the state and national level, I have served or am serving in the following capacities, each of which included daily knowledge of and interaction with (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • Elected Member of the Florida House of Representatives (currently) [3] where I serve or have served as a Member and Vice Chairman of the Insurance Committee (among other committees including the Commerce Committee), which has legislative oversight over all insurance operations in the state (as administered by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation) including those relating to homeowners and commercial property insurance and policies and claims;
  • In addition, I have sat on and served as Vice Chairman of the Civil Justice Subcommittee of the Florida House, which has responsibilities as to Florida laws that establish (among other things) liability, which is of course the foundation to liability as to homeowners and commercial property insurance,

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Legislative - Prior.  In addition to my insurance regulator background at both the state and national level, and my current legislative background, I have served or am serving in the following capacities, each of which included daily knowledge of and interaction with (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • Legal Counsel to the Iowa House of Representatives;
  • Chief of Staff, f/k/a Administrative Assistant, at the U.S. House of Representatives,
  • Elected Member of the Boca Raton City Council; Deputy Mayor of the City of Boca Raton, where I served as the Council’s lead on insurance issues;

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Industry. In addition to my regulatory background and my legislative background as to property and commercial insurance, I have served or am serving in the following capacities, each of which included daily knowledge of and interaction with (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), a major U.S. property casualty insurance company doing business throughout the United States, which employs about 1,000 personnel. While CEO, this position entailed responsibility for formulating policy forms and gaining their approval by Commissioners of Insurance throughout the U.S.  In addition, I was responsible for all producer relations;

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Industry/ Actuarial. In addition to my regulatory background at both the state and national level and my legislative background and my industry background, I have also served or am serving in the following capacities, each of which included daily knowledge of and interaction with (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • American Academy of Actuaries, Washington, D.C., (whose members are often intimately involved in homeowners and commercial insurance from a pricing standpoint) where I served as General Counsel and Chief Lobbyist;
  • Actuarial Standards Board (ASB), Washington D.C. I served as general counsel to the forerunner of ASB, namely the Interim Actuarial Standards Board (IASB).  ASB is to the actuarial profession as to that which the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) is to the accounting profession.  That is to say, ASB promulgates and enforces professional standards that come to bear on the actuary’s work product.
  • Commissioner of Insurance and First Deputy Commissioner of Insurance (IA), where I had daily responsibilities to determine pricing levels for most all property and casualty insurance products, all within a prior approval context.

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Reinsurance Arbitration. In addition to my regulatory background and my legislative background and my industry background and my actuarial background as to commercial property and homeowners insurance, I am serving in the capacity of a reinsurance arbitrator, which requires knowledge of and interaction with (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • Nationally certified Reinsurance Arbitrator (ARIAS-US), where I sit as an arbitrator on disputes between (among others) homeowners and commercial insurers and their reinsurers and enter decisions as to homeowners and commercial property insurance, including ash, soot and smoke claims;
  • Nationally certified Insurance Arbitrator (ARIAS-US), where I sit as an arbitrator on disputes between (among others) homeowners and commercial property insurers and other insurers and enter decisions as to related claims, including those of ash, soot and smoke.

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Legal. In addition to my state and national insurance regulatory and industry and legislative and actuarial and reinsurance background, I have served or am serving in the following legal capacities, each of which included daily knowledge of (i) the regulation of insurance, (ii) homeowners and commercial property insurance, (iii) homeowners and commercial property insurance companies and their obligations in particular as to soot, smoke and ash claims.

  • As stated above, I am an attorney admitted to practice in Florida, Illinois and Iowa (all upon examination) with an insurance practice;
  • Legal Counsel to the Iowa House of Representatives;
  • Practicing attorney at Hager & Schachterle;
  • Iowa Counsel to the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America (PCIAA), the U.S. trade association of smaller property casualty stock insurance companies;
  • Legal Counsel to the Professional Insurance Agents of Iowa (property casualty insurance agents, who sell among other products, homeowners insurance);
  • Legal Counsel to the Iowa Association of Life Underwriters (life, health and annuity insurance agents).
  • Practicing attorney (currently) in Boca Raton, Florida at the Hager Law Firm;
  • General Counsel and Chief Lobbyist to the American Academy of Actuaries, whose members are often involved in auto insurance matters, particularly from a pricing and policy language standpoint;

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Formal Education as a Bases for Expertise.   In addition to my regulatory experience at the state and national level, my legislative, industry, actuarial, arbitration and legal background, my educational background has also prepared me to provide agent and homeowners expertise as follows:

  • Bachelor’s degree: Mathematics[4] - University of Northern Iowa;
  • Master’s degree: Educational Psychology, University of Hawaii; and
  • Juris Doctorate degree (law degree) from the University of Illinois;

Homeowners/Commercial Soot Expertise: Licenses and Certifications as a Bases for Expertise.   In addition to my regulatory experience at the state and national level, my legislative, industry, actuarial, arbitration and legal background and my educational background, my licenses and certifications also show applicable expertise as follows:

  • Bar Admission: U.S. Supreme Court;
  • Bar Admissions, the states of Iowa, Illinois[5] and Florida, all by examination;
  • Certified U.S. Reinsurance Arbitrator;
  • Certified U.S. Insurance Arbitrator;

In the aggregate, these experiences have given me a significant grounding to provide expert soot, ash and smoke claim testimony.

  • Further detail as to my homeowners insurance expertise can be reviewed here.
  • In addition, my expertise as to bad faith/lack of good faith can be reviewed here.
  • My overall regulatory and industry experience can be reviewed in general here.

With each of these to be read in conjunction with my curriculum vitae as available elsewhere.

[1]  Functioning as the Department’s general counsel.

[2]  Because homeowners and commercial property insurance is conducted across state lines and more specifically, nationally, the rules and regulations (by whatever name) are substantially similar state over state.  My point is that my experience is substantially similar to parallel experience and positions throughout the U.S. (e.g., the Commissioner of Insurance) and the balance of the states for that matter.  This experience is bolstered by my 42 years of direct insurance experience, including that of being a CEO of a major property casualty entity doing business throughout the U.S., and my seven years of experience as an elected Member of the Florida House of Representatives where I currently serve or have served as Member and Vice Chairman of the Insurance Committee as well as its upstream parent committee, the Commerce Committee with statutory and legislative oversight over homeowners and commercial property insurance business, which, as stated, is regulated in Florida much as it is in many other states.

[3] I am currently beginning my 7th year in the Florida House of Representatives.

[4] Specifically, a B.A. in secondary mathematics education.

[5] This Illinois Bar license has been placed on inactive status by me. It is eligible for reactivation at any time at my request. This is because I am in good standing with the Illinois Bar.

bill

William D. Hager

Insurance and Reinsurance
Expert and Arbitrator

561-306-5072


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