Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Business

Insurance agencies, consumers take stock of Hurricane Irma damage

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Now that the dust has begun to settle following Hurricane Irma, Floridians are returning home to assess any damage and begin the insurance claims process.

"Our insurance consumer hotline has been hopping all day," said Ashley Carr, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Financial Services said Tuesday afternoon. The hotline fields insurance-related questions from consumers.

As of late Tuesday, insurance agencies and consumers alike are still in assessment mode, and most insurance companies contacted by the Tampa Bay Times did not yet have an estimate for storm-related damages.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurance provider, is currently processing about 150,000 claims related to the storm. "It's less than what we had originally expected," Michael Peltier, spokesperson for Citizens, said. "At one point, we were (expecting) over 200,000."

But that may change as more people return home and assess damage. Currently, Citizens is receiving the highest number of claims from the Keys, southwest Florida and the greater Miami area. While these areas sustained considerable damage from the hurricane, they are also the areas where Citizens' has most of its policies.

USAA spokesperson Matthew Hartwig said the San Antonio, Tx.-based company is currently mobilizing response personnel. "Our resources are heading into the state of Florida as we speak," Hartwig said Tuesday morning.

The next challenge insurance companies will face is getting enough insurance adjusters out to areas in need. Adjusters are insurance agents who assess damage to a property once a claim is filed.

Citizens will likely deploy its adjusters within the next day or two. Last week, the insurer's board voted to push through contracts for an additional 300 insurance adjusters, bringing the agency's total up to about 800 going into Hurricane Irma.

Board votes to expand Citizens' emergency response powers

Peltier said the insurer is not currently expecting any shortages of insurance adjusters, but the agency may be stretched slightly given that Hurricane Irma came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey.

USAA also does not expect to have a shortage of insurance adjusters.

Because it is fairly early in the process, consumers aren't taking to social media or consumer-focused government agencies with complaints yet. Carr, spokesperson for DFS, said she was not currently aware of any consumer complaints related to insurance adjusters.

"Everyone at this stage is still getting back into their homes and is just starting the claims process," she said.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

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