published Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Policyholders flood insurers with storm damage calls

Buddy Castle examines the damage to the home of Wayne and Twanna Green along 56th street in Cleveland, Tenn. A storm on Friday caused severe damage to homes and businesses in the area.
Buddy Castle examines the damage to the home of Wayne and Twanna Green along 56th street in Cleveland, Tenn. A storm on Friday caused severe damage to homes and businesses in the area.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
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HOME DAMAGE IN CHATTANOOGA AREA

Bradley - 6 homes destroyed; 13 homes with major damage & 20 minor; 48 homes affected. 87 homes total.

Hamilton - 30 homes major damage & 20 homes minor; 100 homes affected. 150 homes total. TDEC deployed to Island Cove Marina for 1,000 gallon fuel spill. Clean up is ongoing.

McMinn - 11 homes destroyed; 10 homes major damage & 7 homes minor; 33 homes affected. 38 homes total.

Monroe - 33 homes destroyed; 28 homes major damage & 38 minor damage; 65 homes affected. 164 homes total.

Polk - 7 homes destroyed; 8 homes major damage & 7 minor; 2 homes affected. 24 homes total.

Source: Tennessee Emergency Management Agency

Thousands of damage claims from across the Southeast flooded into insurers' offices following Friday's devastating twisters, as the scope of the region's property damage shifted into focus.

State Farm Insurance had received more than 6,300 claims through Saturday, including 3,600 home and 2,700 auto claims, it said in a news release.

"Then we saw [claim volume] really kick up on Monday morning," State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs said. "We've especially seen a lot of auto activity with all of the hail."

Insured losses for the disaster could stretch into hundreds of millions of dollars, according to PropertyCasualty360.com, a insurance industry trade publication.

Allstate spokeswoman Andrea Fanta said the company had seen claim volume double on Monday, so it dispatched 30 additional adjusters to Tennessee and Kentucky.

"People are starting to clean up and access the damage," Fanta said. "It's significant enough that we're deploying extra staff to keep up."

In Bradley County, 87 houses were affected, including six destroyed and 13 with major damage, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reported.

Another 150 houses were hit in Hamilton County, with an additional 38 affected in McMinn, 164 in Monroe, and 24 Polk, the agency said.

Thousands of cars were pelted with hail, and more than 50 people were injured.

Insurance agencies are jumping into action, with rapid-response teams deploying to hard-hit or densely populated areas. After a barrage of hail blanketed parts of Hamilton County, State Farm sent a special hail response truck to the Lowe's store on Gunbarrel Road, the company said.

Insurers came under fire from some policyholders for not doing enough to help following the 2011 tornadoes, after the sheer volume of damage overwhelmed early efforts to respond.

However, the majority gave agencies high marks following the 2011 disaster.

The key to a smooth process is for consumers to act quickly and document everything, Fanta said.

"Call your insurance company now, even if you don't think your damage is as bad as the next person," she said. "Take pictures of everything and make reasonable temporary repairs that would prevent further damage -- and save the receipt."

In previous years, some homeowners suffered more property damage after a tornado than during it. One family erected a tarp to protect their home during a roof replacement, only to see a subsequent storm blow the tarp away and fill their wind-damaged dwelling with water.

Diggs, a media relations manager at State Farm, said that even if homeowners pay their premiums and do everything right, they should still be wary of scam artists.

"All of the old rules about being smart still apply," Diggs said.

Don't ever pay for anything up front, always get estimates and always get referrals, he said.

"If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said. "There are people looking to profit at your expense."

Not all storm-related businesses are out to make a quick buck, however.

While the number of tornadoes so far this year has surpassed the three-year average of 74, this could be just the beginning of a very tornadic year, according to PropertyCasualty360.com.

"While this year's activity is already high, the peak months of tornado activity across the U.S. have yet to come," Neena Saith, director of catastrophe response at Risk Management Solutions, told the magazine.

BBB STORM VICTIM TIPS

Contractors must be registered with the Secretary of State in Georgia or the Department of Commerce & Insurance in Tennessee. Call 478-207-2440 for the Secretary of State's Professional Licensing Boards Division in Georgia or in Tennessee 615-741-2241 or go online to http://www.sos.ga.gov/ for Georgia or http://www.tn.gov/commerce/ for Tennessee to check whether a contractor is registered.

Many counties require registration if sales people go do-to-door. Verify that they have to have a permit by contacting your local county government. BBB suggests consumers be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches.

While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.

Try to get at least three quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.

Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment up front.

Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the "good deal" you will get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.

Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.

Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there is a problem.

Check that the contractor's vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and Tennessee or Georgia state license plates.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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