Insurers Should Put Copies of Generic Policies Online to Help Guide Customers About What Is and Is Not Covered
Santa Monica, CA — Katrina survivors are reporting difficulty in obtaining copies of their insurance policies in the wake of the disaster, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), which is tracking insurance complaints from homeowners and businesses at http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org/complaints/. In response, the group is calling on insurance companies to place generic insurance policy forms — along with specific hurricane coverage and flood exclusions — on the internet, so Katrina survivors who don’t have a copy of their policy can immediately obtain important information about their insurance coverage.
Homeowners and businesses report being told they will have to wait two weeks before a new copy of policies lost during the storm is sent. While noting that each individual’s policy may have different coverage levels and endorsements, the group said that insurers could easily place the standard policy forms detailing windstorm and hurricane coverage online and that this would begin to clarify for policyholders what may or may not be covered and help expedite the claim process.
“With the massive relief effort by charities and government underway and the postal system up and running, it’s hard to believe that insurers cannot get copies of policies to customers immediately,” said FTCR’s Executive Director Douglas Heller. “But if the insurers cannot get policies to survivors expeditiously, then the generic policy forms with the key language describing what is covered under the hurricane or windstorm endorsements should at least be put online. People know that they had some kind of hurricane coverage, but without a policy it is hard to figure out what’s covered.”
Without a copy of the policy, or at least a generic policy form that provides an indication of what is and is not covered, policyholders will face delays in beginning the claim process and might be forced to turn to FEMA for assistance when, under their policy, insurance coverage is due, said FTCR. Many Katrina survivors who do not yet have copies of their policy are being told by insurers that they will be denied most or all of their claim on the basis of a flood exclusion. Far too many of these survivors, FTCR fears, will take the insurer’s assessment as an indisputable truth and turn to FEMA for taxpayer assistance that is dramatically less valuable than insurance coverage. The consumer group has been chastising insurers for these quick denials, arguing that residents in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who purchased insurance with hurricane or wind coverage should be covered, whether wind or water that did the damage, because the obvious and initiating cause of all the damage was Hurricane Katrina.
The group recommends that no one agree to settle their claim until they have a copy of their policy and have reviewed it and their insurer’s offer with an independent expert.
“Most disaster survivors expect that their insurer will treat them fairly and they instinctively trust their company. But too often insurers have failed their policyholders in the wake of a disaster and people are forced to fight for a fair settlement. The first step in ensuring a fair claims process is ensuring that survivors know what is covered,” said Heller.
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