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"State Farm is not there for me," Majority of state-investigated insurance complaints from East Troublesome Fire victims against State Farm

Majority of state-investigated insurance complaints from East Troublesome Fire victims against State
Majority of state-investigated insurance complaints from East Troublesome Fire victims against State 04:10

It's been more than two years since the smoke cleared from one of Colorado's biggest and costliest wildfires — the East Troublesome Fire. But many victims are still fighting for the insurance money they say they're owed, with one company at the center of several of those alleged disputes — State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance. 


The East Troublesome Fire burned more than 193,000 acres across Grand County and into parts of Rocky Mountain National Park, narrowly missing downtown Grand Lake. The blaze destroyed 366 homes and 214 other structures. 

James White's Shadow Mountain Guest Ranch, a scenic lodge in Granby, was one of those destroyed to dust. 

He says his insurance company, State Farm, dragged its feet to pay him these last two years, claiming he wasn't paid a single cent for months after the fire, and then, the first check he received from State Farm bounced. 

"It took quite a while for them to finally honor that check that they sent me," White recalled. "Just blows me away that, you know, they sent me this million-dollar check and would not clear it to my investment company."

White says it wasn't until this week that he says State Farm paid him another partial payment check. 

"Like a good neighbor, State Farm is not there for me," White said. "They told me because it was a commercial policy, none of my personal belongings are covered, like my clothes were not covered, because it was commercial policy, and they were like, 'You didn't have a homeowner's policy.' And I'm like, 'I had no idea that I needed a homeowner's policy. I just figured I have insurance, and it was it would cover whatever I had.'"

Asked about White's case, a spokesperson for State Farm said, "Due to our company privacy policy, we can't speak to the specifics of any individual customer claim. We cannot discuss matters currently in litigation."

His attorney, Natascha O'Flaherty, says she's representing dozens of other East Troublesome victims who are in "eerily similar" situations. 

Just this October, 17 new lawsuits were filed against State Farm Fire and Casualty in Grand County Court. 

"There's a level of fairness and justice needed on these claims," O'Flaherty said. "These are people who spent decades timely paying their premiums, and when the time came where they needed help, not all claims were handled well ... It should not require hiring a lawyer in order to get paid out on your insurance contract."

She says many victims have been made to list out even the number of underwear they believe they lost in the flames, or the value of their dog food lost — a practice she says is particularly troublesome and unnecessary for victims of a catastrophic loss. 

"I have one claim where they denied a $40 bra as being excessive," O'Flaherty said. 

Since the blaze first began, 62 victims of the East Troublesome Fire have filed insurance complaints with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies' Division of Insurance. The state says it has investigated and resolved 46 of those so far, and 33 of those were against State Farm. 

Vincent Plymell with the Division of Insurance says one reason why nearly all of the East Troublesome complaints they've investigated are against State Farm could be simply due to the fact that State Farm has more customers in the area than other insurance companies. 

However, Plymell says the division is taking a closer look at other possible concerns. 

"It just could be a matter that they are the biggest around right now, but it is one of those things that we will take a look at as complaints come in," Plymell said. "We have our consumer services team that investigates individual complaints and works to resolve it for that person, that household, but those also roll up to another section within the division that looks at things in aggregate to say, 'Is there something systemic going on?'"

If the division believes there may be more systemic issues at play, the agency could open a market conduct examination against State Farm. The division says it's not currently conducting that kind of investigation against the company. 

The last time the Division of Insurance opened a market conduct examination against State Farm Fire and Casualty was in 2012, according to Plymell. See a copy of the findings here:

The agency found no violations and did not recommend any penalties or enforcement actions. 

That said, the division says it's critical to hear from insurance customers about any problems they may be experiencing with any insurance company, so it can help find resolutions. To place an insurance complaint with the state, call 303-894-7490 or email

From July of last year to June 30 of this year, the state says it helped consumers get back more than $19 million in insurance money their insurance companies were previously withholding — a 93% increase from the year before. The state says the majority of that was for wildfire victims. 

In fact, the state says so far more than 180 victims of the devastating Marshall Fire in Boulder County have filed insurance payout complaints with the division. The division says 72 of those have been investigated and resolved in some way, and 109 remain open. The division says of those 72 resolved complaints, 19 were against State Farm — more than any other insurance company.  

"We were there to help consumers and figure out the issues that they may be having with their insurance company," Plymell said. "We want to hear from folks so that we can, one, answer their questions and help them better understand the world of insurance, but to also determine if something is really going on with their insurance, their insurance company, and dig into it, and investigate it, and see if we can correct what's going on."

Victims like White hope others will speak up if they're struggling too. 

"I just feel like they're not coming to the plate like they should, I don't feel they're doing the stuff that they should be doing for me," White said.

State Farm issued the following written statement to CBS News Colorado: "Our hearts and thoughts are with anyone who sustained damage from the wildfires. As an organization, we take pride in our customer service and are committed to paying what we owe, promptly, courteously, and efficiently. Each claim is unique and handled based on the facts of the loss. State Farm seeks to provide our customer all benefits to which they are entitled within the terms of their insurance policy."

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