Insurance adjusters swarm to tornado zone

By Tom Zucco
Published February 3, 2007

Florida's battered and retooled insurance industry had been focused on getting ready for the hurricane season ... not this.

The state's two largest insurance companies, and several smaller ones, rushed agents and claims adjusters into tornado ravaged Central Florida early Friday, and by early evening the companies were processing hundreds of claims.

The storms marked the first test of the state's property insurance industry since legislators approved an insurance package that shifted more catastrophic risk from private insurers to the state.

State-run Citizens Property Insurance and State Farm Florida, who state officials say insure the bulk of the homes and businesses in the area, had small armies of workers in place. State Farm set up a mobile claims center in Ocala and had begun processing more than 500 claims. At least 82 homes insured by State Farm were declared uninhabitable. The company reported damage to at least 200 automobiles.

"Unfortunately, we've gotten a lot of practice at this lately," said State Farm spokesman Chris Neal, who anticipated about 500 claims for damage "into the millions." By comparison, State Farm handled 111,000 claims for a total of $1.2-billion after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Citizens officials processed more than 100 claims by 3 p.m., many from mobile home policyholders. Some of the worst damage, officials said, were at mobile home parks in Lady Lake and near Spencer's Loop.

The largest insurer of mobile homes in the state, Citizens opened emergency claims centers early Friday afternoon in Port Orange, Lady Lake and DeLand.

Adjusters from Allstate Floridian, Florida Family Insurance and Travelers also have set up mobile claims units in the area, but it may be days before state officials can accurately assess how well the insurance industry responded.

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or 727893-8247.