Lawmakers: Insurance Disputes, Slow Response Hinder Louisiana Storm Recovery

By | December 17, 2020

Southwest Louisiana lawmakers on Dec. 16 criticized the insurance industry’s handling of claims from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, describing slow responses, low-balled damage estimates and drones used to assess destruction instead of people.

“We’re almost four months ago (since Laura), and people are still living without roofs over their houses,” said Rep. Phillip Tarver, a Republican who lives in storm-ravaged Lake Charles.

Tarver told an insurance industry representative during a meeting of the House and Senate insurance committees: “We don’t want something for nothing, but we do feel like we’re not getting all that we paid for.”

Laura ravaged southwest Louisiana in August as a fierce Category 4 hurricane, and Delta followed with a second blow to the same region in October as a Category 2 storm. Louisiana’s insurance department said nearly 237,000 insurance claims have been filed across all types of coverage for the two hurricanes.

People are struggling to rebuild, and lawmakers from the area said the insurance companies are making recovery harder.

Among the problems cited in the hearing involved high turnover and inexperience of insurance adjusters, the people who investigate damage claims to help determine what an insurer owes under a policy.

“Adjusters are being changed on a regular basis. Some people are going through four, five, and six adjusters. They lose track” of the information they’ve provided and received, said Lake Charles Sen. Mark Abraham, a Republican.

Republican Rep. Gabe Firment, who owns an insurance claims adjustment firm based in Grant Parish, said too many insurance companies have tried to replace experienced adjusters with drones and other technology that are less accurate in assessing damage to cut costs.

“I want somebody to come out and see my damage and experience what I’m going through,” Tarver said.

Firment also said he’s seen a number of “disturbing” incidents where insurance companies try to minimize claims, requiring reams of documentation that can be difficult for homeowners to produce.

“There’s an intentional effort, in my opinion, to wear the policyholder down,” Firment said.

Insurance industry representatives said people often don’t understand the deductibles and other provisions in their policies that chip away at the money they can receive for repairs and rebuilding. They said they don’t believe there’s widespread fraud or efforts to shortchange policyholders, and they note Louisiana can issue penalties against insurers that aren’t following the law.

Kevin Cunningham, representing the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said in a catastrophic event such as Laura, insurers are overwhelmed with claims filed in a short period of time. It takes time to review those and determine what is owed, he said.

“It is not a fast process,” Cunningham said.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said his agency has received 700 complaints related to the storms, and more than 450 have been resolved. Cunningham pointed to those figures, saying that represents less than 1% of the total damage claims filed.

But lawmakers pushed back on the suggestion that a low number of official complaints indicates people are satisfied with the handling of their hurricane claims. Not everyone will file a complaint, said Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Kirk Talbot.

“A lot of them are just going to throw up their hands,” said Talbot, a Jefferson Parish Republican.

Tarver said many people don’t know the insurance department has a consumer complaints division. Donelon said he planned a radio ad to run from Lake Charles to Monroe to let people know how they can register complaints.

Lawmakers said they wanted to discuss with the insurance industry possible ways to improve the handling of hurricane damage claims, citing similar complaints and problems after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 15 years ago.

Jeff Albright, head of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Louisiana, sought to temper expectations about such talks.

“There will always be some natural conflict between the people who are getting paid and the people who are writing the checks,” he said.

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