For the past week—and likely for the next year—victims of Superstorm Sandy will face challenges they never dreamed of, even those lucky enough to have insurance policies that cover the damages to their home and property.
One of the questions survivors of this tragic storm will invariably ask each other over the coming weeks is, “Who’s your insurer?” The responses that are elicited will draw either envy or sympathy because as these victims—and the victim of hundreds of disasters—will tell you, not all insurance carriers are alike when it comes to handling claims.
It’s been 20 years since my home was destroyed by a tornado and I remember the conversations with my neighbors like they happened yesterday. I will never forget that one neighbor was told by a claims adjuster from a top-10 insurer that the thousands of shards of glass from a picture window that blew into her house could be vacuumed rather than have the carpet replaced.
You can’t blame insurers for trying to save a few dollars on a claim, but the reputation of that particular insurer and the hometown agent who represented that carrier were harmed much greater by the word of mouth from the community than by the insured loss.
I was fortunate in that my top-10 insurer issued a check to me for my full coverage limit within a week of the storm. In times of crisis the most reassuring thing a policyholder can receive is a check, particularly when all of a person’s belongings have to be either stored or disposed of, a temporary place to live has to be found, and getting back to work to earn an income is thrown on top of the mess that once was your beautiful home. The mental health of a victim should never be ignored.
There are challenges that the New York/New Jersey residents have to face that will cause great anxiety. Those without flood insurance will be particularly fearful. There will be government assistance available for some of these people, but low-interest federal loans won’t ease the pain like a claims payment from an insurer.
These will be stressful times for insurers as well because many of their employees will be filing claims for themselves or they will be processing claims for family and neighbors. People get angry when they lose the normalcy or their life. They can’t take it out on some faceless corporation, but they can take it out on a claims adjuster or a call-center rep.
I’d normally advise patience and reassure the victims that things will work out in the end, but that’s being naïve. My family spent four months in a rented house waiting to get back to our home. The massive damage that victims of Sandy have endured is way beyond what my small community suffered and will take much longer than four months to repair.
For those simply inconvenienced by last week’s storm, the worst is likely over. For those that lost their homes or place of business, the hard part—rebuilding—is just beginning.