A shortage of qualified adjusters has left Florida’s insurers struggling to process claims created by Hurricane Irma.Five months after Hurricane Irma tore across Florida, only half of the claims submitted to the state’s insurers have been paid. As of February 9, a total of 900,228 residential, business, and commercial claims had been filed, according to statistics from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. Of that amount, 479,637 received payouts, 293,229 were closed with no reimbursement, and 127,362 remained under review.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that unpaid claims typically result from damages below the policy’s hurricane deductibles. Experts in the state note, however, that there simply might not be enough qualified adjusters to assess the hundreds of thousands of claims filed across the country’s third most populated state.
Help Wanted: Insurance Adjusters
The sheer scope of the destruction is perhaps the largest reason that so many Floridians still await a settlement, as the enormous number of claims has strained the resources of the state’s adjuster community. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation estimates insured losses from the hurricane at nearly $8 billion, making it one of the most expensive natural disasters in U. S. history.As a result, claim payouts in the Sunshine State have been delayed because of a shortage of qualified independent insurance adjusters. While major insurers can dispatch a large number of in-house adjusters to disaster zones, the Wall Street Journal noted that smaller insurance companies rely on independent contractors to assess claims. After Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas prior to Hurricane Irma, however, many independent adjusters rushed to the Houston area, further decreasing the number of adjusters available in Florida.
Homeowners can also hire a public adjuster to negotiate on their behalf with insurers. The state eased the credentialing requirements for adjusters following the storm, but public adjusters continue to be in short supply, Paresh Patel, CEO of Homeowners Choice Insurance, one of the state’s largest insurers, told the Sun-Sentinel. His company insures 138,599 policies across the state.
“We’re seeing people who signed up with public adjusters and we’re having trouble getting to that claim because the public adjuster is backlogged,” Patel said. “We got 300 new claims last week and those have not been seen yet.”
Florida-based insurance agents should continue to help their clients through the frustrating and sometimes lengthy process of settling a claim, which could take several inspections by an adjuster from an insurance company as well as a public adjuster. The goal is to secure a fair payout that enables the client to rebuild their home or business, and that may take time and patience.
Insurance agents must also be aware of any regulatory changes that could ease their clients’ financial burden. Shortly after Hurricane Irma, Florida enacted the Disaster Tax Relief Act, which permits taxpayers to claim deductions for casualty losses even if they don’t itemize their returns. The law also includes uninsured property damage.
The previous law allowed deductions only if the personal-casualty losses exceeded 10% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. In addition, the claim had to be reduced by $100. The new law eliminates the adjusted gross provision, but claims must be lowered by $500.The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation plans to report updated claim information on April 9. With the help of committed insurance agents, the number of paid claims will hopefully increase by then.