Catastrophe adjusters who had more than enough idle time a fewyears ago, now are making up for it with a vengeance. Thewidespread damage caused by this year's hurricanes broughtthousands of adjusters to the Gulf Coast, both full-time carrierstaff, as well as independents.

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Since Katrina made first landfall, adjusters have been working16-hour days to try to reach policyholders whose lives have beendisrupted by the second consecutive season of above-averagehurricane activity.

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As fall segu?s into winter, the shortening days are but thelatest challenge to face adjusters, according to Hart Hubbard,director of catastrophe services for GAB Robins, who currently isworking in Florida. Initially, adjusters were working sunup tosundown examining damage to houses and other properties. As thedaylight hours have grown fewer, however, they have had torearrange their schedules. “They're seeing as much as they canduring the daylight hours, and doing their paper work at night,”Hubbard said.

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Most adjusters are working seven days a week. “There's been notime off,” said Hubbard. “We just keep working.”

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Damage to the infrastructure is one of the biggest problems thatadjusters are having. “There are still some traffic lights out, butpower has been restored — which is a good thing,” Hubbard said inmid-November. As of Nov. 11, approximately 150 households inBroward County, Fla., still did not have electricity.

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In addition to causing traffic snarl-ups, the lack ofelectricity makes it more difficult to get work done. GAB Robinsstaff was able to get back into the Fort Lauderdale office thefirst weekend in November. Immediately following Hurricane Wilma'slandfall, Hubbard and his crew were working out of the Orlandooffice. When power was restored in West Palm Beach, they were ableto transfer to that location while they waited for the move back toFort Lauderdale.

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The widespread power outages, of course, also mean that many ofthe hotels in the affected areas are without electricity. “Therewere only about 100 hotels in Broward County that were operationalout of 680,” said Hubbard. “We had adjusters coming into the areawho could not find a place to reside, as well as do theirwork.”

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Fortunately, Hubbard said, relations with policyholders aregoing relatively well. “Most people have been understanding thatthe adjusters have been out all year, especially with the fourhurricanes of last year,” he said. “Most people have beencooperative.”

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Florida Passes Deductible Law

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In early November, the Florida legislature approved a law thatallows storm victims whose properties sustained damage frommultiple hurricanes this season to apply a single windstorminsurance deductible.

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Under the new law, one full hurricane deductible, typically twoor five percent of the total coverage for the structure, can beapplied, regardless of the number of storms. Once the fullhurricane deductible has been met, however, insurers can apply anon-hurricane deductible on future claims from other storms. Theusual non-hurricane deductible for losses that result from othercauses, such as fire or theft, is $500.

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Other emergency rules enacted by the Florida insurancecommissioner include a cap on public adjuster fees of 10 percent ofclaim payments, and giving consumers up to 14 days to rescindcontracts with public adjusters. The emergency rule also prohibitspublic adjusters from demanding or accepting any type ofcompensation prior to the settlement of claims.

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Database Tracks Flooded Vehicles

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The National Insurance Crime Bureau has compiled a database ofvehicles and watercraft affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.The bureau is allowing people to check vehicle identificationnumbers and hull identification numbers free of charge to helpdetermine whether specific vehicles or watercraft were reported ashaving been involved in either hurricane. The database alreadycontains 120,000 vehicles, whose information was gathered fromsources including insurance companies, salvage yards, and state andlocal authorities.

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Although many vehicle claims were for damages from falling treelimbs and other wind-blown debris, a significant number of carssustained flood damage to varying degrees, according to theProperty Casualty Insurers Association of America. “The challengethat insurers, the FBI, and the state motor vehicle department faceis corralling the cars, documenting the type of damage sustained,and correctly labeling the vehicle titles,” said John Eager, seniordirector of claim services for PCI. “Insurers are working tominimize the opportunity for fraud by setting up this onlinedatabase.”

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Vehicles damaged beyond repair due to floods in the Gulf Coastare classified as salvage, and the titles will be marked to reflectthat status. Many flood-damaged vehicles are not repairable due tothe water damage done to the electrical systems and other parts. Inaddition, some pose health hazards from contaminated water and thepotential for mold and corrosion, PCI noted.

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