California mudslide victims still dealing with insurance headaches

Mudslide victims dealing with insurance issues
Mudslide victims dealing with insurance issue... 02:22

Last Updated Feb 9, 2018 11:12 PM EST

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- It's been a month since mudslides killed at least 20 people and destroyed more than a hundred homes on the California coast. Torrential rain washed out hillsides torched bare by a massive wildfire, and some insurance companies have been slow to connect the disasters and cover the victims.

Beth Prinz had endured the torrent of mud that plowed into her Montecito home. 

"So you were standing inside looking out at mud up to here?" CBS News asked. "Yes," Prinz said. "The water had gone to four feet in about 20 minutes."

The damage was extensive, but when she called her insurance company, USAA, this was the response: "He said, 'we don't cover this type of problem,' and that was it," Prinz said.

She was not alone at a community meeting Thursday night in Santa Barbara.

"It is frustrating for homeowners. I feel that frustration," said Dave Jones, California's Insurance Commissioner.

Jones said most who lost their homes to wildfires were fully covered, while homeowners with mud damage are still waiting because they didn't buy flood insurance. But state law is clear when one disaster leads to another.  

"The indications are that the fires did cause the mudslides and that they should pay claims," Jones said.

"No one's brought you any other evidence to say otherwise?" CBS News asked. "Absolutely not," Jones said.

Mudslide debris cleanup 02:14

Richard Wax's home survived the fires, but then came the wall of mud.

"When you look at this, what's the rough damage assessment?" CBS News asked. "Probably $15-18 million," Wax said. "A hell of a lot of money."  

"You're expecting this to be covered?" CBS News asked. "Yes, I am," Wax said. "I think they know it was caused by the fire."

Many companies are now beginning to accept claims. As for Prinz, after weeks of hearing nothing, the advocate she hired made one more call to USAA.

"He said, 'hey, our client is going to talk to the news,'" Prinz said. "And you got a phone call this morning?" CBS News asked.

 "They've changed their minds and they will cover me now," Prinz said.

While insurance companies continue to investigate these claims, homeowners here are bracing for another round of storms. There's rain in the forecast next week, and officials warn this can easily happen again.

After this story aired, USAA issued the following statement:

USAA has been working carefully to investigate these recent mudslide claims, including by hiring an engineering firm to assist in our investigation. We have completed our investigation for some losses, and those members have been told we are paying their claims. We expect to conclude our investigation next week, and we'll communicate directly with our members.