Insurers flooded with calls but damage is not Fabian-sized’
Too early to estimate full cost of damage
More than 200 people have made claims on Colonial Insurance policies for damage caused by Hurricane Gonzalo, writes Raymond Hainey.
The firm opened for business last Saturday morning and claims are continuing to come in.
Colonial executive vice-president for property and casualty Paul Brierley said that the firm had dealt with 100 claims yesterday alone.
He added: “We are continuing to process them as quickly as possible.”
Mr Brierley said 2003’s Hurricane Fabian was the most recent comparable storm — and that it caused $300 million worth of damage.
But he added: “It is far too early to say what the final cost of Gonzalo will be. The damage is still being assessed.”
Mr Brierley said that it was thought that Tropical Storm Fay may have lowered the sea temperature — lessening the power and impact of Hurricane Gonzalo.
He added: “Some people suffered very severe damage, but I think we all thought Gonzalo was going to be much more serious.
“Many people were obviously very well prepared.”
The news came as Argus Group announced it had already started making payments to customers for both TS Fay and Hurricane Gonzalo.
The firm opened up its offices on Saturday morning and Argus representatives began visiting affected homes and assessing damage.
A total of five loss adjustors have been drafted in from overseas to help process claims and will remain on the Island until all claims have been reviewed.
Argus CEO Alison Hill said: “More than 30 Argus employees were working over the weekend to ensure all client enquiries were addressed in a timely manner.
“Our focus today and throughout the week is on making payments as quickly as possible in order to help our clients rebuild following the hurricane.”
And she said the firm advised its clients to take pictures of damage to property and to obtain estimates for repair work before signing contracts.
Ms Hill added that Argus customers should not pay for work up front, but settle bills on completion of repair work.
Bermuda’s biggest property insurer has been flooded with calls in the wake of Hurricane Gonzalo.
And the firm took more than 250 calls in two hours after its Pitts Bay Road HQ opened for business yesterday morning — with more than 1,000 logged by the end of the day.
The Royal Gazette yesterday joined assistant vice-president for claims Larenzo Ratteray as he made house calls to clients whose homes have been battered by Gonzalo and the earlier Tropical Storm Fay.
Mr Ratteray said: “We have seen some damage in various degrees — like homes which are no longer habitable and where people have lost sections of their roof, exposing kitchens, living areas and bedrooms.”
But he added: “The country has generally fared quite well, when compared to 2003’s Fabian.
“What we’ve seen is some very minor damage — window damage, garden walls and fences down, a few doors, as well as the opposite end of the damage spectrum.”
Mr Ratteray was speaking as he toured damaged homes in the Bostock Hill East area of Paget yesterday to assess claims as staff at the firm work overtime to get around to affected clients.
He added that several condo complexes had also suffered major damage, especially to their roofs.
Mr Ratteray said: “This whole area has taken significant hits.”
He said that some homeowners who got damage to their homes fixed quickly after Tropical Storm Fay more than a week ago faced the double trouble of Hurricane Gonzalo ripping off newly-laid slate before it had a chance to bed in.
But he added that most post-Fay repairs had not been done and Gonzalo had “compounded” damage caused earlier.
Mr Ratteray said that the firm had identified special cases as they were reported — like seniors with no family to assist in patching damage and making claims.
He added: “If it takes a bit longer to talk to a senior on the phone, we don’t mind doing that. We can also supply them with lists of contractors.”
And he said that the firm started dealing with claims as soon as the storm had passed.
He added: “We were open the next day and as time has passed, our working hours have got longer and longer. We’ve been trying to see as many clients as possible.”
Mr Ratteray explained that, in line with the policies of BF&M’s reinsurers, damage from Fay and Gonzalo would be treated as separate claims.
Mr Ratteray said: “It’s still relatively early days, but the vast majority of claims are genuine. The basis of a policy is good faith and indemnity, so people aren’t supposed to put in fraudulent claims.”
Mr Ratteray said: “There may be causes for concern in some instances — there is always scope for improvement when a customer sees an opportunity to claim for something they have been meaning to get repaired for a long time.
“We try to get out to our customers as quickly as possible so we have a total understanding of the damage caused.”
And he added that — for some customers with minor damage — the cost of repairs might not be more than the deductible on their policies.
But Mr Ratteray added: “If they feel it’s not worth claiming, that’s their decision.”
He explained that customers who made larger claims would be unlikely to see hikes in premiums next year because property insurance was not underwritten in the same way as auto insurance.
Mr Ratteray — who has worked for BF&M since 2004 — said damage caused by Gonzalo did not appear to be as extensive as 2003’s Fabian.
He added: “I think we have been fortunate — Gonzalo was measured at Fabian size, but it hasn’t left a Fabian-sized mess.”
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