With more than 20,000 claims related to Hurricane Michael still open nine months after the storm hit the Florida Panhandle, Florida’s top insurance regulator is calling on the insurance industry to take “all actions necessary” to bring policyholder claims to a close.
“More than 20,000 Floridians with open claims need assistance,” a July 25 informational memo from Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier to the industry states. “Insurers should redouble efforts to resolve all open claims, using whatever resources are necessary, to provide policyholders with the tools to rebuild their lives and property.”
The memo notes that as of June 28, 2019, a total of 147,877 claims had been filed from the powerful Category 5 storm that hit the area in October 2018. While 126,208 claims were reported closed, 21,669 claims remained open. Those numbers were little changed when the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) released an update on July 26 – the number of filed claims increased to 148,347 and the remaining open claims decreased to 20,484.
At the request of Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, who is originally from the Florida Panhandle and has been pushing for more and better recovery resources for the region in the wake of Hurricane Michael, Altmaier addressed the subject at the most recent Florida Cabinet meeting.
Altmaier said the approximately 15% of claims still open is “on its face is a discouraging statistic given the storm was 9 months ago,” but noted some of the open claims are new or are those that are more difficult to close.
“Once you get to this point in the process [you are] dealing with some claims that are a little more troublesome from an agreement standpoint between the insurance company and the consumer and that can sometimes delay the claims settlement process,” Altmaier told the Cabinet.
Some insureds with claims that are still open at this point are represented by an attorney or public adjuster, Atlmaier noted, which can delay the settlement process as well.
He added that OIR is reviewing the data points it has received from insurers handling Michael claims and is closely monitoring those companies that still have many claims open compared to the rest of the industry.
At this point, Altmaier said the most productive way to get the open claims settled is having the insurer and policyholder get together to work through the differences and come up with next steps for them to settle the claims.
“From a regulatory standpoint we have made it clear to the industry that we will look very unfavorably on any insurance company who appears to be dragging their feet so to speak in their efforts to close these claims,” he said. “And I know the industry is aware their reputation is at stake here and they have told us – and we have seen this through the data they have submitted to us – that they are committed to making sure their consumers are taken care of.”
The memo state OIR plans to issue a data call to collect additional information from insurers regarding open Hurricane Michael claims. OIR said it will use the information will to evaluate claims payment trends and identify potential impediments to the prompt closure of claims.
“Policyholders have the right to expect prompt, efficient and fair claims adjustment service, especially after a catastrophic loss,” the memo states. “[OIR] demands nothing less. Insurers should therefore concentrate their resources and energy on reaching out to policyholders with open Hurricane Michael claims and taking all actions necessary to bring the claim to closure as quickly as possible.”
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