NEW: Hurricane Irma generates more than 335,000 claims in first week

Hurricane Irma has produced more than 335,000 insurance claims in a week, according to figures state regulators released Monday.

That includes more than 10,000 in Palm Beach County.

Estimated insured losses statewide so far are just under $2 billion.

The numbers will grow. Some residents are only now returning to their homes, and homeowners with damage from Irma have an additional 90 days to submit information on claims under emergency orders from state officials.

State officials emphasize this data is preliminary.

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. expects about 125,000 claims from its customers. It has the second-highest number of policies statewide, about 450,000.

 

After Irma: Citizens opens catastrophe response centers

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said  Friday it is opening Catastrophe Response Centers in Florida City, Key Largo and Naples to assist customers recovering from Hurricane Irma.

Company representatives and claims handling specialists are available at the sites from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Citizens announced representatives also are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle claims calls at (866) 411-2742.

After Hurricane Irma: How emergency insurance order affects you

An emergency order from Florida’s insurance commissioner issued Wednesday evening gives consumers special protections after Hurricane Irma, including 90 additional days to file claims and a temporary freeze on rate hikes and cancellations.

“At the direction of Gov. Scott, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier issued an emergency order suspending and activating certain insurance rules and statutes for the health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s policyholders,” a statement from regulators said.

“Among other provisions, the order provides an additional 90 days to policyholders to supply information to their insurance company; prohibits insurance companies from canceling or non-renewing policies covering residential properties damaged by the hurricane for at least 90 days; and freezes any and all efforts to increase rates on policyholders for 90 days,” the statement said.

Among other things, the order says notices of cancellation issued or mailed after Aug. 25 shall with be withdrawn and reissued on or after Oct. 15.

Gov. Scott initiated the process Tuesday with an executive order directing the insurance commissioner to take action.

“As Hurricane Irma leaves our state, it is critical that Floridians have every resource available to quickly recover,”  Scott said then.  “By providing additional protections for consumers, we are making sure that each family has ample opportunity to get their claims filed in a timely manner.”

Earlier in the day Wednesday, the Florida Property & Casualty Association, representing a number of state-based companies, said it was awaiting details of the final order, which “will provide our members with the specificity they need to properly implement the Governor’s directive. ”

The group said it is committed to working with state officials to make consumers aware of “pitfalls” associated with contractors who ask homeowners to sign over control of insurance benefits, which industry officials can lead to abuses and inflated claims.

The Consumer Federation of America warned against using unlicensed or “fly by night” contractors, but also reminded consumers they can seek other professional opinions and quotes if they are not confident adjusters and contractors arranged by the insurance company are offering full and fair payment.

“Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program and Texas Insurance Commissioner. “Be vigilant, though, and be ready to stand up for yourself and your family, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged.”

 

Is Publix open near you? Here is where to check

Florida’s leading supermarket chain Publix has opened a website where you can find out which stores are open and when in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

“The storm has passed, but its effect on our community hasn’t,” the chain told customers by email. “Even after careful planning and diligent preparation for this storm, Publix Super Markets has felt the impact, too. Rest assured, our associates are working tirelessly to restore each location as quickly as possible.”

In West Palm Beach, for example, two of 10 stores were open at 5 p.m. Monday, according to the site.

In a day, Irma sends Florida insurer stocks reeling up to 20%

Hurricane Irma‘s precise path by this weekend is still not clear, but investors saw enough of its forecast track and winds up 185 mph to send the stock of Florida property insurers plunging — in at least one case with unprecedented speed.

Gas lines in Royal Palm Beach Tuesday reflected worries about Hurricane Irma. This station was out of gas by 2 p.m. (Charles Elmore/Palm Beach Post)

HCI Group, the parent of Tampa-based Homeowners Choice Property & Casualty Insurance Co.,  watched shares fall 20 percent Tuesday, which Reuters reported as its largest-ever percentage drop for one day.

Other Florida-based insurers were not far behind: Shares of Heritage Insurance Holdings, Federated National Holding and Universal Insurance Holdings also suffered losses ranging from about 15 percent to 17 percent.

“I think right now everybody’s got to assume that you’re going to get impacted,” Gov. Rick Scott told residents statewide after receiving a 5 p.m. update Tuesday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.

“This is a big storm, 185 mph,” Scott said. “And if you look at all the projections, it’s not getting smaller, it’s getting bigger.”

 

 

 

Irma: The insurance steps to take now for a Cat 5 storm

The approach of a Category 5 storm like Hurricane Irma of course means preparing to secure properties and stock up  on supplies including bottled water, but it’s also an important moment to organize and protect key financial documents such as an insurance policy, state officials said Tuesday.

You can talk to insurance agents ahead of the storm if you have questions about what your policy covers, but it might not be possible to add coverage with a major storm this close. If you don’t have already have flood insurance, for example, there is typically a 30-day wait before it is effective.

It is easy to take for granted access to electronic copies of records, but remember electric power, wireless and cellular networks can be all be disrupted by a major storm.

That’s why making a copy of key records such as your insurance policy and an agent’s card and putting them in a waterproof bag might not be a bad idea, according to an Emergency Financial Preparedness Toolkit available free at myFloridaCFO.com.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and dangerous storm, and Floridians must take steps now to make sure their families are prepared,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said. ‘There’s no reason to wait, and families have everything to gain by taking a proactive approach. Consumers should stock up on necessary supplies, and families should discuss their disaster and evacuation plans well ahead of the storm’s landfall.”

Tips from Patronis’s office:

  • Inventory your high-dollar household items, including receipts, purchase dates, and serial numbers. Photograph or videotape your possessions. Keep copies of this information with your insurance policies and cards in a safe place. Store the originals in a safe deposit box, if possible.

 

  • Print insurance policies and take note of hurricane deductibles. Most policies have a hurricane deductible equivalent to 2 to 5 percent of a home’s insured value. If your property is damaged, you will be responsible for a portion of the repair costs.

 

  • Write down the name, address, and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information. Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you must evacuate.

 

  • Shore up your structure. Buy materials that can secure your property and minimize your losses. Cover your windows with shutters, siding, or plywood. Move vehicles into a garage or carport. Grills and patio furniture should be taken inside.

After the storm,  if consumers sustain damage to their home or property, the state’s toll-free Insurance Consumer Helpline staff can help with the insurance claims filing process at 1-877-693-5236.

ALERT: Whopping 500,000 cars flooded in Texas spark consumer warning

An estimated 500,000 cars in Texas have been flooded by Hurricane Harvey, which will cost insurers $4.7 billion to cover, financial analysts figure.

Florida is watching Hurricane Irma closely on its own doorstep, and Harvey provides a reminder to secure vehicles on ground as high as possible.

Human life and safety of course remains the most important consideration, but the ripple effects of devastating storms can play out for months or years.

Flooding in Texas is expected to cause $4.7 billion in car damage alone. (ABC News)

The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning consumers that “vehicles flooded by Hurricane Harvey may soon be appearing for sale around the nation.”

The non-profit organization in Des Plaines, Ill. works with insurers to document which cars have been affected. Many cars are sold off for their undamaged parts, but others are likely to find their way to lots in other states.

Though Irma’s path remains uncertain, Florida will remain a large market for used vehicles as the third most populous state — and may even add to a soggy inventory for sale.

One precautionary move is to check the vehicle identification number online, including this database from NICB:

www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck/vincheck

Still, that does not cover all risks.

“Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged,” the crime bureau warned.

Officials suggest having a car checked out by a mechanic before purchase, and watching for trouble signs.

Want some tips to avoid buying a flood-damaged car?

Here’s one: Check for moisture, mildew and grime not just under carpets but also inside the seatbelt retractor.

Another: Check for rust on screws in consoles or places water normally does not reach.

Look for mud or grime in the spare-tire compartment.

See any white powder or pitting on aluminum and alloys? Think twice.