Washington, D.C. — The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) today warned consumers to prepare to file claims for damage resulting from Hurricane Ida and offered tips on “how to get all you are entitled to from your insurance company.”
CFA believes that Hurricane Ida will produce about $19 billion in insured losses, split between private insurers for the wind damage and the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for flood damage. CFA estimates that private insurers will face over 180,000 claims for wind damage by homeowners with insurance payments for wind damage exceeding $12 billion. The NFIP (and a few private insurers of flood insurance) will, in CFA’s estimate, handle as many as 100,000 flood claims for over $7 billion, given the severity of the storm surge and the rainfall totals. The flood estimates could vary widely depending on how much rainfall ultimately occurs as the storm’s final bands pass through impacted areas, what the ultimate height of flood stages in the rivers will be, and the percentage of homes in those hard-hit areas that have flood insurance.
J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Texas Insurance Commissioner and Federal Insurance Administrator (who ran the National Flood Insurance Program) said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the wonderful people of Louisiana, where I was born, Mississippi, Tennessee and other states who face the aftermath of this huge storm.
“Fortunately, Louisiana has one of the highest percentages of residents who carry flood insurance in the nation so most people who had flood damage from this storm in Louisiana will be covered by flood insurance. Almost all wind-damaged homes have homeowners policies covering wind but insurers have been steadily increasing hurricane wind coverage deductibles and imposing other, sometimes draconian, homeowners insurance policy limitations. This shift of costs to consumers under homeowners insurance policies may take some by surprise, since disclosures of coverage changes are often buried in renewal paperwork that consumers may not understand or even read. Because so many consumers in Louisiana experienced severe claims problems in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Ida to be vigilant with their insurance companies, including the insurers settling National Flood Insurance claims, to ensure that that they receive a full and fair settlement.”
Tips for Consumers Filing Claims: How to Get All You Are Entitled to from your Insurance Company
As consumers prepare to contact their insurance companies in the wake of the storm, CFA offered the following five-part guide regarding the filing of a claim.
Part 1. Initiating Your Claim
Part 2: Keeping Good Records During the Claims Process
When you file a claim, you should immediately start a notebook documenting contacts with your insurance company. List the date, time and a brief description of every exchange. If you need to complain later, this information will be vital (see below). If an adjuster says he or she will come and does not, write it down. If an adjuster is rude, write it down. If the adjuster is pleasant and efficient, write that down too.
Make as thorough a list of your possessions as you can. Use pictures of your possessions taken before the storm and keep them in a safe place. If you later realize you have no pictures when you file a claim, don’t forget that family or friends may have pictures of rooms in your house (for example, from Christmas or other celebrations) that can be helpful in recreating a list of your belongings.
You may wish to take your own photos of the damage as part of your documentation, if you can do so safely. Do not climb on the roof. Leave that to the professionals. The adjuster should still take their own damage photos.
As noted above, you may be entitled to money up-front for living expenses, such as hotel costs and meals, if your home becomes uninhabitable as a result of wind damage. Keep receipts from emergency repairs as well as any costs you incur in temporary housing. These costs may be reimbursable under the “Additional Living Expense” portion of your homeowners policy. Insurers are usually very good about these initial payments, particularly while the media is focused on the hurricane aftermath. Most claims problems, if they arise, come later, when bigger payments are sought.
Part 3. What if the Claim is Denied or the Offer is Too Low?
If the claim is denied or you feel the offer is too low, demand that the company identify the language in your homeowners policy that served as the basis for denying your claim or offering so little. This approach has several benefits:
If you feel that the offer is too low or the claim denial is wrong, the best process for getting your complaint resolved is as follows:
The federal government underwrites flood insurance coverage, although insurance companies (known as “Write Your Own” companies) are contracted with the government to service claims. Follow the same procedures as above, except direct complaints to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the government agency responsible for running the federal flood insurance program (1-800-427-4661, TDD# 1-800-427-5593). The FEMA flood insurance program tips on handling claims are located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeaI973gFjo. This page contains a video that shows you the basics of how to prepare your claim your claim and how to appeal if you are unsatisfied.
The FEMA claims manual explains, in detail, the claims process. Key points are:
“Flood insurance claims after both Katrina and Sandy were handled very badly,” said Hunter. “This sad history should not deter you from seeking fair compensation for losses caused by Hurricane Ida.” Indeed, Hunter indicated, insurers face greater scrutiny by state regulators and FEMA because of the serious claims problems that occurred after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. FEMA has been under extreme pressure from Congress to continue getting better at watching the performance of their insurance company contractors to do a better and fairer job in settling flood insurance claims. There seems to be significant improvement recently but you still must be vigilant when handling your flood claim.
Preventing Insurers from Using Hurricane Ida as an Excuse to Raise Homeowners Insurance Rates, Limit Coverage
After Hurricane Katrina and other large storms, insurers pulled back from offering homeowners coverage along the coasts, dumping people into higher priced, state-run insurance pools. They also cut coverage and raised rates substantially.
CFA is calling on state regulators not only to closely monitor insurers to prevent claims abuses but to stop insurers from moving to increase home insurance rates and cut back on the coverage they offer after Hurricane Ida claims are paid. There is no reason, actuarially, for insurers to raise rates or cut back coverage in homeowners insurance policies due to Hurricane Ida, which is a windstorm well within the computer-modeled projections underlying insurers’ current rate schedules (the windstorm was probably no more than a one in 100-year event.)
Consumers must also act to protect themselves. To do this, consumers must stand together and agree not to buy auto insurance, home insurance, or other coverage from any insurance company that refuses to renew homeowners insurance policies with consumers who make claims related to Hurricane Ida. Consumers stood together after Hurricane Andrew, persuading Florida to pass a moratorium on the non-renewal of policies and to look carefully at companies’ post-disaster rate increase applications. Consumers should fight any attempt to use hurricane claims as an excuse not to renew homeowners policies or sharply raise home insurance rates and should complain to state regulators if insurers do take such actions.
State Insurance Departments Should Create Web Sites Tracking Insurer Progress in Settling Hurricane Ida Claims
“The insurance departments in the states with serious damage should establish a web page with information on how each insurer is doing at closing claims from Hurricane Ida,” said Hunter. It should show the number of claims filed, the number partially paid, the number fully paid, the number closed with no payment, and how long it takes each insurer to resolve the average claim settled since the storm. A model for such a system could be the monthly analysis of claims payment progress used by the New York Department of Financial Services in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
“Americans always pull together to protect one another whenever there is a disaster like this, but when it comes to rebuilding homes long after the storm has passed, too many people find themselves in lonely battles with insurance companies. We all will have to keep a spotlight on the communities hit by Ida to make sure that survivors don’t face a second disaster in the shape of unfair practices by their insurance companies,” said Hunter.
Additional Resources: United Policyholders-2021 Hurricane Ida—Insurance Claim and Recovery
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