Conn. Homeowners Vent Frustration Over Coastal Insurance

September 25, 2006

Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Susan Cogswell caught the brunt of shoreline homeowners’ frustration and anger over spiking insurance premiums during a public forum on the issue.

Cogswell had approved a plan this summer by the Andover Companies to cancel policies if homeowners failed to install costly storm shutters over doors, windows and other openings. The policy applied to homeowners within a mile of the water. But Cogswell put the approval on hold for 90 days after Attorney General Richard Blumehthal began an antitrust inquiry.

The forum last Thursday was intended to let homeowners air their concerns.

They sure did.

“To me, this whole thing is a ploy and a scam and an excuse to raise the price of insurance for us to help pay for the price of Katrina,” New London resident Larry Hample said.

Hample was among the approximately 400 homeowners who came looking for answers at the forum, that also included Blumenthal, state emergency preparedness experts and state lawmakers.

Cogswell tried reassure them that her office is doing everything it can to protect them as insurance companies try to reduce their risk in the event of a devastateing hurricane.

“Maybe you should protect us and not the insurance industry,” one resident shouted at Cogswell from the back of the room.

Homeowners living within 1,000 feet of the water are taking the biggest hit. Some have been forced to sign up with speciality insurers like Lloyds of London or must pay higher premiums.

Mary O’Connor, of Old Lyme, said she has spent two months trying to comply with the Andover requirement. She said building codes allow plywood coverings of windows, doors and other openings, but Andover won’t accept them.

“To date I am seeing little if any signs of willingness from the insurance company to work with the homeowner,” O’Connor added. “I cannot afford the estimated $50,000 in shutters to meet Andover’s requirement.”

Doris Pulaski, of Groton, explained she has 29 windows on her historic home. She said five of those could not be covered with the type of shutter Andover wants and said should be some leeway to allow the shutters that fit historic homes and districts.

Cogswell tried to explain repeatedly that if smaller insurance companies don’t raise premiums to cover catastrophic insurance costs, homeowners would be left with worthless policies.

Blumenthal pointed out to the audience that national insurers are on course to make record profits this year as fears of a catastrophic hurricane have not materialized. He called proposals to increase deductibles and to force homeowners to install expensive shutters or risk being dropped “unreasonable, unprecedented and unfair.”

He issued subpoenas last month requiring Andover and eight other insurers to document their reasons for requiring the shutters.

Disaster experts told the audience if a major hurricane hit Connecticut it would flatten houses, cause flooding from East Haven to Greenwich, topple 75 percent of the trees and cause an estimate $41 million in property damage.

“How are shutters going to stop another 1938 hurricane?” Joe Birmingham of Groton asked.

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