Irma: 215K vehicle claims flood insurers on top of record Harvey

In the same season Hurricane Harvey is smashing records for vehicle insurance claims, a report out today says Hurricane Irma has generated a hefty number of its own in Florida — more than 215,000.

More than 422,000 claims in Texas include massive numbers of vehicles taken to lots to be auctioned off for parts or scrapped, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That blows past vehicle claims from Hurricane Katrina (about 300,000) and from Superstorm Sandy (250,500), says the Des Plaines, Ill.-based nonprofit organization funded by the insurance industry.

But Irma is not far behind with more than 215,000 vehicle claims in Florida, whether from flooding, wind-blown debris or other causes, the group says.

What does this mean for consumers? One issue to watch is flooded cars making their way to used-car lots or classified ads, NICB says.

While many flooded cars will sold for parts or scrapped, some unscrupulous merchants will buy a vehicle, clean it up, and take it to another state where they will obtain a “clean” title and sell it with no warning that it has been flooded, the organization cautions.

Consumers can check vehicle identification numbers but that won’t protect against all forms of shady dealing, such as cases where cars without comprehensive insurance to cover flood damage are cleaned up and sold without a record that they were flooded. Buyers should have cars checked out by a mechanic or watch for signs of water damage under carpets or in other places not easily visible.

Florida insurance commissioner David Altmaier told Florida’s Cabinet this week that “upward pressure” on homeowners’ rates is likely after the busy storm season.

Analysts expect increases in car insurance premiums as well, though how much is not yet clear.

Another matter is whether the record-breaking combination of storms puts financial pressure on insurers to delay or deny more claims than they normally might. Companies typically deny this, but groups including the Consumer Federation of America advise policyholders to be ready to challenge or appeal denials they believe are not justified.

Consumers with questions or complaints about insurance claims can contact Florida’s division of consumer services at (877) 693-5236.

 

After Irma: Why are 90% of flood claims being denied?

Nine out of 10 flood claims resolved by the National Flood Insurance Program in the early going after Hurricane Irma have been closed without payment, federal records provided to Florida officials show.

Residents help push a stranded car into a driveway along Alden Ridge Drive after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaac caused the nearby lake to overflow flooding the neighborhood streets of the Alden Ridge housing community in Boynton Beach in 2012. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Why? The Palm Beach Post asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nearly $100 million in payments have been approved on payable flood claims, said Greta Richardson, claims branch chief with FEMA in Washington, D.C.

But it’s still early in the process, she said, and payable claims tend to take longer to resolve  than cases where officials have determined there was no qualifying damage.

“Irma was a hurricane that brought in a lot of wind damage,” Richardson said, though some areas of Florida did experience flooding as well. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey in Texas did much of its damage from flooding.

NFIP policies generally cover flooding from the ground up, such as storm surge or heavy rain causing local waterways to overflow. Standard homeowner policies tend to cover damage from, say, wind blowing off a piece of the roof and rain coming in from above.

If homeowners are not entirely sure of the cause of damage, they might file claims under both their standard home and flood policies just to be sure.

According to data federal officials gave Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier last week, 195 NFIP claims administered by private partners in a Write Your Own program have been closed with payment after Irma, compared to 1,936 resolved without payment.

But there are still plenty of claims to be worked out. Fewer than 8 percent of the 24,316 flood claims mentioned had been resolved at that stage. Records provided to Altmaier showed more than $72 million in payments had been made at the time.

The average claim closed with payment was for more than $25,000.

FEMA officials urged Florida residents to buy flood coverage, because flooding is not covered in standard home insurance policies. Lenders require flood policies in certain high-risk zones, but it’s up to homeowners to make the choice in other cases. Florida has the largest share of the nation’s roughly 5 million NFIP policies, including more than 100,000 in Palm Beach County.

Most flood policies come from the federal program, though a limited number of private insurers offer such policies.

Out of 1,419 private flood claims filed so far after Irma, 269 have been closed with payment and 92 have been closed without payment, with more than 1,000 still open, state records show.

Among NFIP claims, Monroe County leads with 6,714 claims, or 29 percent of the total, according to information provided by FEMA on Monday.

That is followed by 2,870 claims in Miami-Dade County and 2,082 in Collier County.

Duval, Lee, St. John’s and Broward counties all registered more than 1,200 NFIP claims.

Palm Beach County is among the top dozen counties affected with 313 claims, though nearby Martin Co. had just 29.

As of March 31, there were more than 100,000 policies in Palm Beach County, including more than 66,000 in unincorporated areas, nearly 15,000 in Boca Raton, more than 9,000 in Boynton Beach, and more than 7,000 each in Jupiter, Palm Beach and Delray Beach.

Changes to flood maps effective this month have caused some uncertainty and anxiety among county homeowners about how their homes and properties are classified. Homeowners can talk to their agents and mortgage companies to get more information as their policies renew.

Hundreds of thousands of Florida homeowners with a choice — meaning they were not required by lenders to buy it — dropped flood insurance after Congress increased costs in recent years in an effort to tackle the flood program’s $23 billion debt load following storms including Katrina and Sandy.

Florida officials have often maintained their state often gets a bad deal as a donor market, receiving about 30 cents in claims paid for every premium dollar spent.

 

After Irma: Insurer Citizens expects 125,000 claims

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has received nearly 16,000 claims by Thursday morning and expects perhaps 125,000 from Hurricane Irma, a spokesman said.

Citizens president Barry Gilway defended a proposed rate hike in a hearing in North Miami in August.

That’s around one in four customers of the state’s No. 2 insurer. The company could announce as early as Friday mobile operations centers in South Florida to help people process claims.

Most claims so far are coming from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties as well as southwest Florida, officials said.

State officials did not immediately have a statewide number for claims filed.

Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said in advance of the storm, “Consumer protection is our number one priority as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. The Office is dedicated to constantly monitoring the financial health of insurers, and in the coming days, we will be available around the clock to address any insurer issues.”