Tennessee Insurance Department Works With Insurers to Pinpoint Wildfire Claims

December 7, 2016

Devastating wildfires that have hit the state of Tennessee, particularly in the City of Gatlinburg, have caused widespread damage, with 656 claims reported to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) as of Dec. 1. That number will undoubtedly grow over the coming days as residents begin to come back and survey the destruction left behind by the fires that began burning on Nov. 28 and so far have killed 14 people and damaged more than 1,400 homes and businesses.

TDCI unveiled a new strategy Dec. 2 as part of its ongoing emergency response the Gatlinburg wildfires that involves coordination between insurers and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). TDCI is compiling insurers’ claims data so it might be combined with satellite imagery and GIS mapping software to determine claims and potential claims from the fires, according to a statement from the Department.

TDCI said combining the potential claims information, which is being provided voluntarily by insurers, with the mapping software should help carriers react to help affected home and business owners.

Data TDCI has received through Dec. 1 shows 656 combined reported claims (home, auto, etc.) thus far from the affected areas and claims continue to be reported. A valuation of the losses has not yet been determined. In addition to insurers’ claims information, TEMA officials and local fire departments are also assisting on this project, TDCI said.

“This is an unprecedented collaboration between insurers, the Department, and emergency responders to a historic and heartbreaking situation,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “While we understand many larger insurers may have their own insurance claims mapping tools, not every insurer may have that resource. The Department will do everything in our power to help consumers begin to rebuild their lives. By combining the claims data with satellite imagery, it is our hope this will help insurers to more quickly determine losses and help consumers, particularly in areas that are not yet accessible.”

Tennessee is officially under a state of emergency because of the wildfires, per an executive order from Gov. Bill Haslam. The state of emergency puts state price gouging laws in effect, making it unlawful for individuals and businesses to charge grossly excessive prices for essential goods and services.

The order also gives Commissioner McPeak the discretion to direct Tennessee-licensed insurance companies to make reasonable efforts to assist policyholders who have experienced losses as a result of the disasters, specifically when a delay in premium payment appears to be the result of a disruption to the mail delivery system or the policyholder’s displacement.

McPeak issued an order to that effect on Dec. 2 directed to insurers that included a request that cancellation or non-renewals of policies for the non-payment of premiums be suspended for a period of at least sixty (60) days from the date of the loss, and that carriers allow policyholders to temporarily postpone payment due dates, in addition to other requests.

The Department established a Community Resource Center (CSC) in Pigeon Forge in Pigeon Forge where affected consumers can get food, water, and clothing as well as assistance from other state agencies and insurance carriers who have sent catastrophic response teams to the Gatlinburg area.

“The Department appreciates the rapid response from our insurance industry partners to this wildfire crisis,” said TDCI Assistant Commissioner for Insurance Michael Humphreys. “Their trailers rolled into Gatlinburg a day or two after the fires, and they have made teams available to answer consumer questions and begin the claims process. We look forward to continued collaboration as we work together to assess the damage and rebuild these historic homes and businesses.”

Topics Carriers Catastrophe Natural Disasters Claims Wildfire Tennessee

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