Dave Swaffer's vista California home is his greatest joy but also his biggest problem. He's lived in his five bedroom home for 15 years.
But, as CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, after using his homeowners insurance for broken water pipes, State Farm dumped him.
After being turned down, Swaffers says he had a total of 46 denials, either through an agency or directly from the company, before finding insurance.
The reason Swaffer couldn't get insurance after State Farm dropped him is a secret of the insurance industry called the CLUE system: the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. Originally it was used to help companies detect fraud. But now it's being used against consumers to blacklist them for making any claim.
"But everyone knows you are going to have to claim, that is the reason you buy insurance in the first place," says Swaffer. "You shouldn't lose your coverage because you filed a claim."
According to California's insurance commissioner, in all of 2001 there were only 300 complaints by consumers who were dropped by their insurance carrier; in just the past 4 months of 2002 that number has shot to 1200.
Unlike a credit report or driving record, most consumers don't know about their CLUE record. It's often used to drive up premium prices. Swaffer finally got insured, but by an out-of-state high-risk company.
"My premium went from $700 to $3,200," he says.
State Farm and several other carriers won't even write new policies in California, claiming losses outweigh premiums.
"It's not something we wanted to do, but our financial situation was grave," says State Farm spokesman Bill Sirola.
Consumer advocates say it's not just claims. A look at the company's financial records shows they are in financial trouble because of the stock market. Losing big on Enron and Worldcom investments. Ian Rubin, a Farmer's insurance agent, agrees the costs of those losses are being passed along to consumers.
"They probably shouldn't, but in the real world they are," Rubin says. "Why should someone pay more for gasoline because we have a war in Iraq? It just works out that way."
Just the way it worked out for Swaffer, who now finds himself stuck.
"If I want to sell my house, according to my real estate agent, it is un-sellable, because it is uninsurable at this point through normal channels," Swaffer says.
And it takes at least five years for a claim to be erased from the CLUE record, leaving Swaffer with a well-maintained and beautiful burden.