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Lessons for Granite Staters from Hurricane Ian

By D.J. BETTENCOURT and CHRIS NICOLOPOULOS - Guest Columnists | Oct 29, 2022

Like all Americans, our best wishes are with Floridians who continue to grapple with the tragic destruction brought by Hurricane Ian.

Beyond the human cost, the number of insurance claims filed continues to rise, topping nearly 500,000 as of last week, and estimated insured losses stand at more than $4.2 billion, according to our colleagues at the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. By some estimates, Hurricane Ian is projected to cause more than $67 billion in insured losses. Without question, Florida’s property and casualty insurance market will take several years to recover.

However, while Hurricane Ian’s physical impact might be limited to Florida and other southern states, there are large and critically important lessons that Granite Staters should note as it relates to insurance.

Tip 1: This point may sound the simplest, but it is often the one most missed and truly the most important. Take the time to read and understand your insurance coverage when buying or renewing a policy. Start by making a list of the valuable assets in and around your home like large appliances, jewelry, fences, pools and patios. Many may assume all of these items are protected under their homeowners coverage, but some may not be covered.

Personally, we have received multiple inquiries from friends and family who own property in Florida who are reading their policies for the first time. They are understandably under great duress – in some cases having lost everything – and trying to understand what is and is not covered and how to go about the claims process.

Dedicating just a few minutes to read your policies and work with your insurance agent to answer any questions and help you to understand what your coverage provides and what it does not, can inform decisions about your financial obligations and determining any additional protections needed.

It’s also important to understand what exclusions (a loss that your insurance company will not cover) are outlined in your policy. For instance – be sure to check what weather-related damage is or is not covered. In Florida, many residents were shocked to discover that their homeowners policy excluded damage from wind or damage to a roof. Similarly, homeowners policies will not provide coverage for flooding caused by natural disasters. Flood coverage for natural disasters is sold as a separate policy. Others found that their policy’s deductibles required them to first pay out out-of-pocket costs that far exceed their savings or rainy-day funds.

Tip 2: Ensure that you, your family and/or your business is adequately insured and that you are not cutting corners. In too many cases, residents of Florida gambled and went without flood insurance. When Hurricane Ian delivered record storm surges, that gamble led to tragedy.

Paying for adequate insurance can feel burdensome, but the cost of not having the needed coverage is simply not worth the risk.

Other residents had a basic homeowners policy but lacked coverage for exterior features not attached to the home, such as decks, screened-in patios, fences, sheds, porches or docks. When purchasing a policy, be sure that you extend coverage or get a separate policy to ensure those pricey structures are paid for if damaged.

Do not overlook your auto policies, pollution policies and – for those facing potential third-party claims – liability policies. It is crucial to obtain, review and evaluate all potentially applicable insurance policies related to you, your family or your business.

Tip 3: Have a plan in place to properly file a claim prior to any incident. Calling your insurance company may not be the first thing you think to do after a fire, flood, or other unfortunate incident. However, it’s important to do so quickly, both for safety reasons and to get started on the claim process.

Be sure to document all damage and anything else that will form the basis of the claim. Take several photos and/or videos detailing damage. This is especially important if immediate repairs are necessary to make the impacted area safe and habitable. Compile a list of damaged or destroyed possessions, along with their approximate value. This will be a lot faster if you’ve made a detailed home inventory of your possessions ahead of time.

The coming months will be a challenge for southwest Florida; we hope that out of their struggle will come lessons that can help Granite Staters be more comfortable with the terms of their insurance and ensure they are properly protected. Insurance is not a substitute for preparedness.

Christopher Nicolopoulos of Bow is the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Insurance, and D.J. Bettencourt of Salem is the Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Insurance.


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