WASHINGTON – As insurance adjusters are dispatched by the thousands to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, Marylanders filing claims as usual are not expected to experience delays, but another disaster, or an unexpected twist in the status of Hurricane Ophelia could change that.
Hurricane season doesn’t end until November, said Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr., and if something unexpected happens, and four or five states are affected, the insurance industry might encounter a more serious strain.
Two large insurers, Allstate and State Farm, each with a catastrophe team of about 2,000 people, have not had problems keeping up with the workload in the rest of the country.
State Farm, which as of Tuesday reported 235,000 property claims and 72,000 auto claims from the Gulf Coast, is relying on its catastrophe team to cover the region, said Dick Luedke, spokesman for State Farm.
“Of course everybody is working more than they were before,” he said, but the catastrophe adjusters only work catastrophe claims, while other adjusters are available for all other claims.
But it’s hard to say what might happen in the next few weeks because adjusters are just starting to get into the hardest-hit areas, said Debbie Pickford, spokeswoman for Allstate in the capital region.
Allstate has sent eight adjusters from the capital region to the Gulf Coast and has 20 more on standby, Pickford said.
The Maryland Insurance Administration will also mobilize staff members in the near future, as well as assist evacuees who have come to Maryland and need to file claims for their damaged or destroyed property over 1,000 miles away, said Redmer.
“I do not anticipate that there will be problems in Maryland,” Redmer said, because insurance companies have local adjusters to cover this area and contract with other adjusters to go to regions affected by disasters.
Wendy Williams, an agent with the independent company Complete Insurance Services in Takoma Park, said none of her customers have experienced any delays.
The insurance providers did send her information explaining procedures to help hurricane evacuees who come to her. The information explained how companies can help evacuees make payments, inquire about claims and other tasks that independent agents normally cannot do for people who are not their customers, Williams said.
Maryland gained a national reputation for its rapid handling of claims after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, Redmer said. He added that the industry as a whole handled last year’s hurricane season admirably when Florida was hit by four hurricanes within a month and a half of each other.
Allstate is on standby waiting for Ophelia, Pickford said. The Category 1 hurricane has been hovering in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, moving slowly north. The Census Bureau estimates more than 2 million residents in North Carolina and Virginia are in the path of hurricane or tropical storm force weather.
As for the damage from Katrina, “the industry is able to perform in terms of being able to write the claims” and get adjusters on the ground, said Steven Ader, director of the insurance ratings group for Standard & Poor’s.
Risk management firms predict the insured cost of Hurricane Katrina could fall anywhere from $14 billion to $60 billion.