It might sound strange, but the founder and president of one of Florida’s major insurance companies has a message for anyone who thinks they might have sustained damage from Hurricane Irma:
“File a claim. It won’t count against you.”
Security First Insurance founder and president Locke Burt said he recently heard someone on TV urge property owners not to file claims for minor property damage because that could cause their rates to increase in the future.
For non-hurricane-related claims, that’s true, Burt said. Several non-weather-related claims filed within a few years will indeed place customers in a higher risk class, and thus, trigger higher insurance rates.
But the notion that filing an insurance claim for hurricanes will increase premiums in the future is an urban myth, Burt said.
“Hurricane Irma is an act of God,” Burt said. “Insurance companies handle acts of God differently. They don’t count against you. You need to file your claim. It doesn’t hurt you.”
Even if a claim is so minor – a broken window, lost roof tiles, or a dented garage door for example – that it won’t exceed a policyholder’s annual hurricane deductible, you should still report that damage, Burt said.
That’s because even if you receive no money from that $1,000 claim, if there’s another hurricane this year and your deductible is $2,000, “you only have $1,000 to go,” he said.
“You have to report your Irma claim now, because when Jose comes, you’ll have it on the record.”
Hurricane deductibles in Florida used to be assessed per hurricane. But the Florida Legislature established an annual deductible in 2004 after four hurricanes struck the state and many homeowners were forced to pay more than one deductible.
Plus, sometimes homeowners might not realize the extent of damage they consider minor, he said. A friend who said a tree bounced off his roof but caused no damage later learned major damage was caused to beams under his shingles, Burt said.
Burt said Security First had received about 7,000 claims as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Claims for Hurricane Irma damages were still coming in on Tuesday, and most insurers contacted by the Sun Sentinel declined to reveal how many have come in, or from where.
Kevin Mitchell, vice president of investor relations for HCI Group, which operates Homeowners Choice Insurance, said, “It’s too early to tell where claims are trending.”
A lot of policyholders, particularly those who evacuated from the Keys or Southwest Florida, haven’t returned to their homes yet, or are still struggling with loss of water and power.
“People with damage haven’t been able to call. We’ll have a better sense in a week or so,” he said.
Michael Peltier, spokesman for state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said about 7,000 claims had come in as of 1 p.m. but stressed that is preliminary. Also preliminary, he said, is the company’s estimate that Irma will result in 150,000 claims statewide. When Irma’s eye wall was pointed at Miami-Dade County late last week, Citizens was bracing for more than 200,000 claims, he said.
Travis Miller, spokesman for Universal Property & Casualty, the state’s largest insurer, said claims calls to that company have been active over the past two days but “lower than expected and well within the company’s plans and preparation.” About a third of claims received so far have been from the tri-county region, he said.
The company has dispatched adjusters to inspect properties in the tri-county region as well as to the Tampa and Orlando areas, he said.
Logistical issues such as power outages, flooding and road closures are affecting adjusters’ ability to reach properties in Southwest Florida, he said. “Nonetheless, adjusters will be working in those areas as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Palm Beach County emergency managers on Tuesday said Hurricane Irma caused at least $19 million in damage to homes, businesses and government buildings. That is a preliminary estimate and the figure is expected to rise, said County Administrator Verdenia Baker and Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the National Flood Insurance Program, said it did not yet have any tallies for flood claims from storm surge or excessive rainfall – conditions not covered by traditional property insurance.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott issued a news release on Tuesday saying he has urged Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to take steps to ease burdens on insurance customers as they recover from the storm.
They include providing an additional 90 days to policyholders to provide required information to their insurance companies, rescinding for 90 days all non-renewals or cancellations issued to policyholders in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, and “freezing any and all efforts to increase rates” on policyholders for 90 days.
What the news release didn’t say was whether Altmaier has agreed to do what the governor is urging. Reached Tuesday evening, Altmaier spokeswoman Amy Bogner said the Office of Insurance Regulation planned to issue an emergency order on Wednesday.
Asked about the Scott news release, Burt said he had just received it and was seeking clarification from the governor’s office and the Office of Insurance Regulation.
Burt said policyholders having trouble reaching claims agents by phone can submit claims in a number of other ways: through his company’s online portal, its mobile app, by text, or email. “You can post it on Twitter or whatever,” he added.
Most insurers also allow online claims submissions.
Claims have been submitted online by Security First policyholders in 25 states – presumably property owners who evacuated and were told by friends, neighbors or family members that their properties sustained damage, Burt said.
And it’s OK that policyholders “get in line” by submitting claims before personally inspecting their properties, he said. “What’s the worst that could happen? We send someone out there and they say ‘you’ve got no damage.'”
Copyright © 2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Ron Hurtibise. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.