The California Department of Insurance ordered hearings last week into proposed rate increases by GeoVera and Fireman’s Fund for earthquake insurance coverage.

The Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said the hearings were a result of its petitions to block those rate increases as excessive.

The Department of Insurance granted hearings on both a proposed 6.8 percent rate increase by GeoVera, California’s largest independent earthquake insurer, and a proposed 25 percent increase in Fireman’s Funds earthquake insurance rates.

“Earthquake insurance customers with GeoVera and Fireman’s Fund must be protected from these excessive and unjustified multimillion-dollar rate hikes,” said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate with FTCR.

Both carriers are headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Susan Murdy, media relations representative for Fireman’s fund, said the company is evaluating the FTCR petitions.

“As always, our goal is to offer stable and fair rates for our customers. We are confident by working with the California Department of Insurance we can achieve that goal,” he said.

GeoVera spokesman Mike Zuckerman said the company did not have any comment on the hearings.

Ms. Balber said that both hearings were granted under the rules of voter-approved Proposition 103, which requires insurance companies to justify rate changes prior to imposing increases and allows consumer groups like FTCR to challenge excessive rates and request public hearings.

The insurance commissioner must grant a hearing if a requested rate change exceeds 7 percent, as was the case with Fireman’s Fund’s proposed increase.

FTCR challenged GeoVera’s rates as excessive, Ms. Balber said, primarily because the insurer seeks to pass through $44 million in unjustified reinsurance costs to its policyholders, an amount which makes up over 50 percent of its requested rates.

FTCR’s petition alleges that GeoVera failed to disclose information about costs of the company’s reinsurance despite a clear requirement for the company to provide it under new prior approval regulations effective April 3, 2007.

The petition also challenges the company’s failure to provide any evidence that its catastrophe model used to predict future losses uses the best available data or meets the appropriate actuarial standards.