Carriers Flooded With Auto Damage Claims

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Plantation, Fla., ‘Insurance Village’

The “Insurance Village” established by Florida’s Depart-ment of Financial Services in Plantation, Fla. west of Fort Lauderdale, had a lot of damaged vehicles in the parking lot, and many auto policyholders took their adjusters to the parking lot to see the scratches and dents caused by Hurricane Wilma. Some damages were minor; other vehicles looked like an entire tree had fallen on the automobile’s roof.

Automobile damages, caused by Hurricane Wilma, brought a barrage of automobile claims to carriers, which could help make the hurricane one of the costliest storms in Florida history.

Falling tree branches, airborne shingles and other wind-whipped debris left behind a lot of scratches, dents and smashed windows but fewer cars were destroyed than in previous Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Another yet unreported factor, involves how many auto damage claims will be reported due to collisions at intersections at which, because of power outages, there were no traffic signals.

State Farm and Progressive received more auto damage claims from Hurricane Wilma than any of last year’s hurricanes. The two firms are Florida’s largest auto insurers.

State Farm claims break records

A week after Wilma, State Farm had received 35,409 auto claims, more than its auto claims after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne combined.

Last year Hurricane Charley caused the most auto claims for the state’s largest auto insurer, 19,440.

The flood of claims slowing some carriers response time to auto policyholders. State Farm spokesman Chris Neal said customers should expect to wait about 20 days after filing a claim to see an adjuster for an estimate.

Neal said State Farm was bringing in several mobile adjuster offices from other states to meet the demand. Its mobile offices were working in Louisiana and Mississippi and several arrived in Florida the week Wilma hit.

After the first week, State Farm reported it had received more than 87,000 Wilma-related claims. Of those, more than 30,000 are automobile claims, State Farm spokesman Chris Neal told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

“This is a huge auto event for us,” Neal said. State Farm is Florida’s largest insurer for both homes and automobiles.

State Farm said the body shops with which it has agreements are reporting average delays of 60 to 90 days.

Progressive reports more claims

Progressive wouldn’t provide claim numbers but said Wilma’s auto claims exceeded the number of claims for any of last year’s hurricanes.

The flood of claims isn’t having the same effect on Progressive.

“Wilma is significantly bigger than any one storm last year,” Progressive spokesman William Perry told the Palm Beach Post. “And it’s bigger than any two storms last year.”

On average, Progressive customers can see an adjuster four days after filing a claim and get their checks in 4-1/2 days, Perry said.

He said wind was the cause of most of the vehicle damage claims Progressive’s adjusters have seen.

“There are fewer total losses, and more of the damaged vehicles are repairable,” Perry said.

Nationwide not as busy

Not all Florida auto insurers are being swamped with claims. Nationwide Insurance has received 1,900 auto claims since Wilma blew through the area.

Last year Hurricane Charley resulted in 3,000 auto claims for Nationwide, the most of any of the four storms.

Allstate wouldn’t provide claim numbers.

Miller says some autos not covered

Cars are covered for hurricane damage by the comprehensive portion of automobile insurance policies, if that comprehensive coverage was purchased, Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council explained.

Miller said that if a policyholder doesn’t have a comprehensive policy, the car won’t be covered for hurricane damage.

There are no hurricane deductibles on an automobile policy, as there are with homeowner policies. Whatever the deductible you have for comprehensive coverage would apply, Miller said.

Comprehensive auto coverage also will pay for flood damage to cars. Houses require separate flood policies.

It’s too early to tell how much Wilma will cost the insurance industry in losses. Some computer models estimate insured damage to cars and houses to be as high as $12 billion, but Miller said the council is using an average of four models that pegs damage at between $6 billion and $7 billion.

Better loss estimates should be available soon. But if current estimates stick, it would put Wilma on par with last year’s Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm that hit Florida’s west coast.

Property claims coming at a brisk clip

State-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which has the highest concentration of home policies in South Florida, had received 42,000 claims one week after Wilma, according to Citizens spokesman Justin Glover.

Of those claims, 18,000 were in Miami-Dade County, 12,000 were in Broward County and 6,000 were in Palm Beach County.

Nationwide Insurance Co. of Florida reported more than 10,000 Wilma claims, with the majority of those coming from southeast Florida, company spokesman Joe Case told the Sun-Sentinel.

Adjusters visited the most severe claims first. Companies aren’t reporting any access problems getting to damage areas, but adjusters are getting stuck in traffic and had difficulty refueling their vehicles, Miller said.


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