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For California’s Farmers and Vintners Who Have Lost Their Insurance, Help Is On The Way: Senate Bill 11 Is Signed Into Law

By Procopio Senior Associate Alexandra "Sasha" Selfridge

Following 2020’s disastrous fire season, many of California’s farmers and vintners expected their commercial insurance rates would skyrocket.  What came as an unpleasant surprise were the notices that the insurance policies for these agribusinesses would not be renewed at all, leaving policyholders uninsured. Many in this valuable industry have been left without protection in the face of drought, unprecedented heat waves, and the 2021 fire season already underway. 

According to the Napa Valley Register, Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore reported that, for as many as 25 percent of Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s members, their property insurers declined to renew the members’ property insurance policies. The situation is similar in Napa County, according to Napa County Farm Bureau CEO, Ryan Klobas

Since 1968, non-agricultural property owners could rely on the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan.  The FAIR Plan, established by statute, provides basic fire insurance coverage for high-risk properties when traditional insurance companies will not.  The FAIR Plan is designed to be a temporary safety net for Californians until traditional insurance coverage becomes available.  Previously, the FAIR Plan was not available to agribusinesses, but that has just changed.

On July 23, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 11 into law which is aimed at providing California’s agricultural industry some relief.

SB 11 operates by revising the language of Insurance Code section 10091.  The prior version of Section 10091 specifically excluded “farm risk” from the definition of “Basic property insurance.”  The new version significantly narrows that exclusion to “commercial agricultural commodities or livestock, or equipment used to cultivate or transport agricultural commodities or livestock.”  As a result, according to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, “farmers, ranchers, and vintners will be able to purchase necessary basic property insurance from the FAIR Plan, including for the family home, the barns for the farm animals, the feed barn, the buildings that hold the farm equipment, and the crop storage units, among other such structures.” 

In addition to the obvious benefit of insurance coverage, SB 11 notes that “Many farmers, growers, and ranchers rely on insurance in order to secure loans used for operation.”  Thus, this legislation should promote the financial security of California’s agribusinesses.  As for Californians as a whole, the legislation is designed to prevent “the closure of farms unable to find insurance, employment struggles for the affected farm workers, and higher food costs.”  For California’s vital agricultural industry, help is on the way.

 

 

Alexandra “Sasha” Selfridge is a Senior Associate at Procopio. She is an experienced trial attorney in a wide range of civil litigation, including insurance coverage, appellate practice, business litigation, premises liability, breach of contract, construction defect, products liability, and transportation litigation.