Excerpted from Insurance Journal: Hurricane Irma’s ‘Last Gasp’ By Amy O’Connor | September 10, 2020

“There’s been one last gasp to get the claims in prior to the September 13th deadline,” said Barry Gilway, president & CEO of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., referring to the statutory requirement that specifies policyholders must notify their insurer of a claim within 3 years of when a hurricane makes landfall and causes covered damage. In the case of Irma claims, that deadline falls on Sept. 13, when the storm warning officially ended, Gilway said.

Florida approved the three-year insurer notice of windstorm or hurricane loss requirement in 2011 as part of sinkhole reform. Claims can be reopened or supplemental claims related to the original claim can still be filed as long as the insurer received the first notice of loss ahead of the corresponding storm’s deadline.

Now, nine years later, that filing deadline is officially being put to the test for claims from Hurricane Irma, the first major storm to hit the state in over a decade when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane with 130-mile per hour winds. The storm then spread north over Florida’s east and west coasts causing widespread damage and losses statewide. Loss estimates when the storm first hit ranged from $25 billion to $65 billion by catastrophe modelers.

According to the most recent Hurricane Irma claims data from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in January of this year, more than 1 million Irma claims have been filed – 909,321 of those being residential property and 61,518 commercial – totaling almost $17.5 billion in insured losses.

For Florida insurers and Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort, Irma was and continues to be a very significant event, Gilway said. Citizens received about 76,500 claims and that number keeps growing. Citizens is one of many insurers today, Gilway said, receiving hundreds of Irma cases per month, with the number of claims spiking as the first notice deadline neared.

“There really is this push the closer you get to the deadline date for new claims to come in. You get this push to put in more and more and more claims,” Gilway said. “Here we are three years out from the storm, and we’re still getting between 450 and 600 claims per month. From a size standpoint, most companies are seeing that uptick in claims.”

As is the case with most storms, Gilway said, most insureds filed their claims right after Irma. There have been some “scope claims,” since then he noted, thanks to contractor shortages at the time of the event that kept the work from being completed right away.

“The claims that we received, initially started out as being legitimate, solid claims. It’s very, very clear that when it comes to hurricane claims, people want to put the claim in, they want to put it in now because it is very real damage and they need a response to the damage,” Gilway said. “As time goes on, what you find is you’re getting more and more claims that are extremely questionable.”

Not everyone agrees, however, that the all of the Irma claims still coming in are fraudulent or inflated. Florida attorney Gina Clausen Lozier, member of law firm Berger Singerman’s Dispute Resolution team, said in a recent survey conducted by her law firm of 2,000 business owners in Florida, 75% were unaware of the first notice of loss deadline for Irma. That is concerning, she said, especially given the COVID-19 situation that could be preventing people from having inspections done on their home or business.

“There’s no reason that anyone would be aware of it if you’re just a regular business owner and consumer,” she said.

Larger commercial claims, in particular, can take longer to go through the claims adjustment process and many claims are just in the last six months getting resolved in litigation or in the alternative dispute resolution process, she said. Additionally, more repairs or a more thorough overview of damage can require a supplemental claim because the scope of damages is larger than originally thought. Or “there’s some people who are just now being made aware that they had significant damages to their roof from a wind event, which a lot of times seems to be Irma,” she said.

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