Today is the one year anniversary of Hurricane Irma, a devastating Category 4 storm that made landfall on Cudjoe Key, about 15 miles north of Key West, on September 10th 2017. While many here in Florida continue to rebuild their lives a year after that storm caused so much damage all along Florida’s coast, there are important lessons which Irma and other large storms can teach us.

Irma’s anniversary arrives during the traditional peak of hurricane season, the beginning of September is typically when  the largest number of storms are ‘born’ each year as conditions off the African coast and in the Atlantic ocean are most favorable.

And as if on cue, three large storms are brewing in the Atlantic as I type this blog, most notably Hurricane Florence, a predicted Category 4 storm destined for the Carolina coast later this week, which again illustrates the importance of advanced preparation including having a full understanding of how your insurance works before the wind arrives.

According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s most recent (August 13th) update, a remarkable 997,237 claims have been filed from Hurricane Irma. The state estimates that insured damages from Irma total nearly $ 10.5 Billion and that as of that date some  92% of the claims that were filled have been closed. Here are the latest statistics from the state on Irma:

Lines of Business # of Claims      Closed Claims (paid)    Closed Claims (not paid)     # Claims Open    % of Claims Closed
Residential Property 839,570 513,367 262,275 63,928 92.4%
Homeowners 665,520 398,467 215,152 51,901 92.2%
Dwelling 104,103 64,142 30,964 8,997 91.4%
Mobile Homeowners 60,562 47,437 12,123 1,002 98.3%
Commercial Residential 9,385 3,321 4,036 2,028 78.4%
Commercial Property 59,987 19,365 25,195 15,427 74.3%
Private Flood 1,824 1,064 638 122 93.3%
Business Interruption 4,004 1,798 1,788 418 89.6%
Other Lines of Business 91,852 67,644 21,654 2,554 97.2%
TOTALS 997,237 603,238 311,550 82,449 91.7%

As I look back over the past year since Irma arrived, much less at what other past storms can teach us, allow me to share a few suggestions and comments that are wise to consider when thinking about your insurance and what to do before as well as after one arrives in your life or community:

1. WINDSTORM DEDUCTIBLES: Most property and home policies include unique deductibles for losses from a named windstorm or hurricane. These deductibles are nearly always higher than are deductibles for non-windstorm losses such as fire and theft. Windstorm deductibles typically require the policyholder to pay a percentage of the insured value of the building or dwelling, generally ranging from 2% to 10%, 15% or higher. As such, for a home insured for $1,000,000 with a 2% windstorm deductible the policyholder would be responsible to pay out of pocket for the first $20,000.00 in damages. It’s wise to review your deductible and understand how your deductible works before you suffer a loss.

2. WIND-DRIVEN RAIN: Damage caused by wind-driven rain, say rain blown through or around poorly sealed door and/or window openings or seeping through a wall is typically not covered in a property or home insurance policy. While damage caused by the wind itself, such as when wind blows off your roof or blows out a window or door, is typically likely covered (subject to the windstorm deductible), water damage caused by rain seeping into the building or home through doors and/or windows or the walls generally is not covered. Significant water damage can take place in situations like this, especially in multi-story buildings and that damage can be to a structure itself as well as the contents inside.

And speaking of contents, and wind driven rain, consider the following wording within a typical homeowner’s policy that excludes claims from wind driven rain within its definition of the peril of windstorm:

Coverage C – Personal Property: We insure for direct physical loss to the property described in Coverage C caused by any of the following perils unless the loss is excluded in Section I – Exclusions.

Windstorm Or Hail: This peril includes loss to watercraft of all types and their trailers, furnishings, equipment, and outboard engines or motors, only while inside a fully enclosed building. This peril does not include loss to the property contained in a building caused by rain, snow, sleet, sand or dust unless the direct force of wind or hail damages the building causing an opening in a roof or wall and the rain, snow, sleet, sand or dust enters through this opening

Each policy can include different wording so it’s important to review your actual policy or to contact your agent or underwriter here to have us help you determine how your own coverage works. Proper maintenance, as much so as one’s insurance policy, is also important and that includes paint, caulk and replacing rotting wood or other components that will all help reduce or eliminate the chances of wind driven water from intruding.

3. SCAMS, SCAMS EVERYWHERE: Sadly, catastrophes tend to be followed by people preying on other peoples’ hardships and that’s certainly the case following a major hurricane. Property and homeowners should resist the temptation to sign up with the first repair crew that shows up at their door without vetting them (are they licensed, insured, experienced?), and should never, in our view, sign paperwork that assigns the rights and benefits of their insurance policy to someone else. Assignment of Benefits scams are a leading recent cause of rising insurance rates, and fraud artists see the arrival of a hurricane as a wonderful opportunity to prey on people who are overwhelmed by the damage these storms cause.

Our advice is to report your loss as soon as possible to our office or to the insurer directly and that you contact your professional agent or underwriter here at Morris & Reynolds if you ever have questions about something someone promises, your coverage or the progress of your claim. As we’ve heard all of our lives, if it sounds too good to be true it nearly always is and that’s especially true with some contractors, public adjusters and others who prey on people during their darkest hours after these storms by making bold promises and then failing to deliver any real or timely results.

4. FLOOD & RISING WATER: Damage caused by flooding, common in a hurricane, is not covered by standard property or homeowners insurance policies. A separate flood insurance policy is required for this type of loss and Morris & Reynolds offers such policies from FEMA through the National Flood Insurance Program as well as all leading private insurers.

Hurricane Florence, when it arrives late this week off the Carolina coast, is predicted to bring one to two feet of rain with it and, thus, no matter where you live, near the water’s edge or well inland, please consider what the flooding such a storm’s rain would do to your property and whether you have or should carry flood insurance.

5. MITIGATE & DOCUMENT:  If you have suffered damage to your property, homeowners insurers expect you to mitigate the loss to your property to the extent safely possible and that you document the damage. Placing a tarp over a damaged roof or boarding up a broken window can prevent further losses and an insurer will pay for that mitigation as part of your claim. Documenting damage by taking photographs and saving receipts for any out-of-pocket costs will help speed your claim along to conclusion and are best captured from the start rather than trying to recall what took place weeks or even months later.

6. PATIENCE PAYS: That’s easy to write or say but can, I know, be challenging in the aftermath of a disaster.  Yet, coming from someone who has seen too many natural disasters up close, I can say for certain that being patient after a storm passes is essential. With nearly 1,000,000 claims filed after Irma, insurers, contractors, engineers and others were in short supply and there was simply not enough of those folks to help everyone immediately. As we have seen many times over the years and once again following Irma, even the best intended professionals struggle with the volume of work, a lack of labor or supplies and other challenges after a hurricane lands so patience is important.

Insurance and insurers are far from perfect. Insurance policies are legal contracts written by lawyers, filled with complex terms, conditions, coverage and exclusions, and interpreted over decades by courts.

No insurer fully staffs for the arrival of a large scale hurricane that may or may not come in a given year, or for many years or even ever, and the independent field adjusters that they hire when disaster strikes, often called ‘storm troopers’, come from all over the country. Once here they are dispatched to visit you after a catastrophe but may or may not be competent (you can read about such concerns in a recent Miami Herald article by clicking here) and often don’t know the specifics of your own policy or insurer.

Those independent adjusters, and the people that they report to are often, themselves, overwhelmed with the volume of work and initial challenges in finding contractors and others to bid and evaluate the needed repairs, calculate the financial aspects of a claim or obtain the payment itself in a timely manner. And to make an already often inefficient ‘system’ worse, the reality is that with nearly 1,000,000 Irma claims, including claims in every county in Florida, and Irma having following Houston’s Hurricane Harvey some six weeks (and over 600,000 claims from that storm) earlier, the industry was clearly overwhelmed for many (too many) months.

Even in our modern world of 2018 there is no ‘app’ or online solution to the fact that such claims, and the rebuilding work that follows, involve a very high degree of human interaction and that often make the process painfully inefficient, slow and frustrating. That is most certainly the case for the 8% of those with Irma claims that remain open today, much less many whose claims have been paid but that struggle with building/zoning issues, finding a contractor, architect, engineer, labor and materials. Patience here in paradise, especially after a hurricane, is perhaps the most important lesson we can share after nearly 70 years in the insurance industry.

As Hurricane Florence heads towards the east coast with an expected landfall likely later this week a report out this morning from the analytics firm CoreLogic predicts that the estimated 3.9 million homes from Florida to Maine present a risk from such a disaster that exceeds a staggering $ 1 Trillion. The threat from hurricanes along our coast, and especially here in Florida, will never disappear and as values continue to increase the risk and challenges from these monster storms will only grow and grow. Learning from past storms and using that knowledge to best prepare your insurance, property and lives in advance of their arrival is our best advice.

And speaking of advice, whether you have a question about your current insurance, a claim or coverage options for the future please know that the professional agents and underwriters here at Morris & Reynolds are always happy to help. Please contact us at any time, for any reason, and, as always, thank you kindly for allowing us to provide your protection.

Trusted Insurance

"Savings & Service Has Been Our Policy Since 1950"
14821 South Dixie Highway, Miami, Florida 33176
P 305.238.1000 | F 305.255.9643

Independent agent