BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Slow responses to damage claims. Constant switch-ups of insurance adjusters assessing the destruction. Low payment offers forcing people unnecessarily into litigation to get a fair deal.
Louisiana lawmakers and others said Wednesday that those are the problems they're seeing and hearing with the insurance industry as homeowners struggle to rebuild and recover from Hurricane Ida, which struck southeastern parishes Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm.
Republican Sen. Mike Fesi, who lives in hard-hit Terrebonne Parish, said he's been waiting 90 days to get a payment offer from his insurance company.
“Just the not-knowing is worse than anything else. Either you’re going to get paid or you’re not,” Fesi said during a joint meeting of the House and Senate insurance committees. “I can’t say whether the companies are procrastinating on purpose.”
Frustrated lawmakers urged Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon to help them devise ideas for improving the industry’s response to hurricanes. They say they are seeing the same problems that Louisiana encountered after last year’s Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta.
“It's very sickening what we've just heard,” said Rep. Kathy Edmonston, a Republican from Gonzales. “Obviously, something needs to be done.”
Donelon said he’ll propose some ideas for the 2022 regular legislative session, but offered no immediate suggestions for how to speed up claims settlements. The Republican insurance regulator has urged people with problems to file formal complaints with his office and has held town hall meetings to help people with claims issues.
“The number one complaint is delays: slow-pay and no-pay,” said Doug Quinn, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group the American Policyholder Association, which is tracking insurance issues after Ida.
Donelon said he didn't yet have data on how many property insurance claims have been filed from Ida. About $10.5 billion was paid for claims related to 2020's Laura, Delta and Zeta, he said.
Companies are required under state law to make initial contact with a customer filing a claim within 30 days, but Donelon gave companies an extra 30 days for Ida because of the extensive destruction. Lawmakers questioned if that was too long.
Donelon replied that he's not hearing many complaints about the initial contact happening within 30 days, but rather that customers are receiving “radio silence” about their damage assessment and payment offer after that first outreach from the company.
He and lawmakers also said they're hearing complaints about the “churning of adjusters,” with people seeing a changing group of people involved in assessing their home or business damage rather than a consistent point of contact handling their claims.
“People call my office and say, ‘I’ve got my third adjuster and I’ve got to start all over again,’” said Senate Insurance Chairman Kirk Talbot, a Republican from River Ridge.
Insurance industry representatives said the state doesn't have enough adjusters to handle a hurricane on the scale of Ida and they brought in people from elsewhere to help.
Two of Louisiana's largest insurers — State Farm Insurance and Allstate Insurance Company — said they have closed about 82% of damage claims filed from Ida. Allstate reported receiving 42,000 Ida claims, and State Farm more than 53,000 claims. Louisiana Farm Bureau said it's wrapped up 99% of its nearly 9,200 Ida claims.
Rodney Braxton, representing State Farm, defended the company as working through claims in a “timely fashion."
“I don’t know that anybody will ever be satisfied when your home is destroyed, but we put our best effort in,” he said.
But closing a claim doesn't always involve payment and doesn't always mean that claims are fully resolved. Customers can still seek additional payments.
Similar insurance problems plagued the response to Hurricane Laura in southwest Louisiana.
Lawyer Cooper Fournet, who said he represents hundreds of property owners with Laura damage, said a settlement process created after the hurricane has been helpful in closing outstanding claims disputes with insurers.
But Sen. Mike Reese, a Leesville Republican who represents areas damaged by Laura, said customers shouldn't have to file litigation to reach satisfactory settlements with their insurance companies.
“It’s unfair to all of these citizens who have been so negatively impacted,” Reese said.
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