Infrastructure broken, wreckage scattered, alligators greet claim teams

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Damaged infrastructure created new obstacles for adjusters responding to Hurricane Ian, along with widespread flooding, damaged cellphone towers and even an occasional alligator.

Sedgwick executive vice president Danny Miller said his company used boats to send adjusters to barrier islands off Florida’s Gulf Coast, where they conducted inspections with police escort. He said local authorities were also limiting the use of drones at the moment, delaying damage assessments.

Danny Miller

“After the storm subsides, flooding is still limiting some exits from the main interstate grid, so there may be unidentified damage ahead,” Miller said. “We’ve seen that access to clean water, electricity, cell service, internet are all things that affect customers and businesses reaching out to file their claims.”

Alligators presented another problem. Miller said a team from Sedgwick inspecting a “local government structure” encountered two alligators amid the wreckage. Sedgwick spokeswoman Judy Molnar, responding to a follow-up question, said inspectors were able to “navigate” and complete their work safely without removing the animals.

Miller said Hurricane Ian would be a “long-tail” claims event due to widespread destruction across Florida and the Carolinas. “This is causing issues downstream with transportation, rental cars, rental homes and hotels, supply chains and logistics in all areas affected by the hurricane,” he said.

Miller said Sedgwick sent engineers, construction consultants, forensic accountants and a content team in addition to claims adjusters to respond to clients.

Many vehicles and boats were destroyed, in addition to buildings.

“Marine losses are massive, from small personal watercraft to yachts,” Miller said. “Our yacht/pleasure craft team investigates damage related to marinas and boat sales operations. In one case, we had an inventory of 27 high-priced craft, we located 12 in the facility and will spend a few days tracking down the missing 15 craft over the next few days,” he said.

Miller said the destruction of personal residences could come as a shock. Miller said home prices in Florida nearly doubled from 2004 to 2022, which could lead to some properties going uninsured.

Mike Beach, senior vice president and national real estate director for McLarens, said in an email Thursday that helicopters and boats are the only means available to access certain areas along Florida’s southwest coast. , such as Sanibel Island near Fort Myers. Other areas — including Fort Meyers Beach, Bonita Springs and Sanibel — have been closed to all but residents.

“This has hampered our ability to conduct timely inspections in certain circumstances,” he said.

Mike’s Beach

Another hurdle: “There’s a state-issued ID that adjusters must have in their vehicles to access certain areas and curfews are in place,” Beach said.

On the other hand, technological innovations are creating opportunities to resolve complaints faster than ever. State Farm, for example, reported that its remote claims teams are using virtual inspections with claimants.

“Using aerial imagery during the first stage of the response helped us identify areas of severe impact,” said Heather Paul, brand advocacy specialist. “It helped State Farm identify the hardest hit areas and customers, and assess where we needed to initially respond and send our first wave of resources to begin processing claims from those hardest hit.”

Disaster modelers predicted that Hurricane Ian’s destructive path across the Florida peninsula will create historic losses. CoreLogic updated an estimate of wind and flood losses on Thursday, saying insured damages will range from $41 billion to $70 billion. Uninsured losses will range from $10 billion to $17 billion, CoreLogic said.

The most serious access issues occurred in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where Ian landed on September 29. The storm washed away a causeway that connects Sanibel Island to the mainland and a bridge that connects Pine Island.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said construction of a temporary bridge on Pine Island was completed Thursday and repairs to the Sanibel causeway should be complete by the end of the month.

Reviewers mobilized by the Claims Administrator from across the country.

State Farm said its response began Sept. 26, when it sent a fleet of disaster response vehicles from its headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois, to Birmingham, Alabama. The company said it set up an orientation center to support incoming staff, which arrived at a rate of 100 claims handlers per hour. Each received fully equipped laptops, printers and technical equipment to take to the field, the company said.

McLarens chief operating officer Cory Barnett said the company had sent around 80 trimmers to the damaged areas, including 30 already “in the field” on Thursday. Teams were sent to Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

He said McLaren’s had seen a 1,110% increase in claims notifications from Florida compared to the same 10-day period last year.

“The severity and complexity of losses range widely, from housing associations to condominium associations, to municipalities, to risky builder projects, to hospitality customers and more,” Barnett said.

McLaren’s Beach said its company expects the usual conflicts of causation between wind and flooding that have sparked litigation after past disasters in Florida. Disaster modeler Karen Clark & ​​Co. warned of similar costs due to “excessive litigation”.

“It was a big wind and surge event,” Beach said. “Such disputes can often be a problem in such circumstances, so we expect to see a similar pattern, but to what extent remains unknown at this time.”

Like State Farm, McLarens uses policyholders’ smartphones to jump-start the claims process. Beach said the McLarens app allows customers to “stream real-time, geotagged, tamper-proof image evidence.”

“This ability to assess and manage complaints remotely when needed is a big plus in such circumstances,” he said.

The rapid availability of aerial images of damaged areas also helped insurers react quickly.

EagleView said in a blog post that it organized a fleet of fixed-wing aircraft in Florida’s west coast counties before Ian made landfall. After the hurricane passed, he sent these planes over areas that were in the storm’s path to capture high-resolution imagery. Images are made available to local government, insurance and construction customers as they become available.

The Geospatial Insurance Consortium also provides aerial imagery to member insurers through post-storm overflights in partnership with Vexcel Data Program.

This image posted to Twitter shows a Tesla that caught fire in northern Naples.

The technology has also created a new peril, one that Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis experienced personally during a tour of hurricane damage in Collier County on Thursday.

While there, an electric vehicle burned on US Highway 41 north of Naples. Patronis tweeted a video of firefighters from North Collier Fire Rescue putting out the blaze with fire hoses.

“There are many electric vehicles in Southwest Florida, and unlike a normal gasoline engine, salt water corrodes these lithium batteries, causing fires,” Patronis said in a press release later. . “While EVs aren’t new, there hasn’t been much experience nationwide with EVs catching fire due to salt water from storm surges.”

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