Recovering from Hurricane Matthew

Many organizations in the southeastern United States recovering from Hurricane Matthew are still dealing with downed power lines, swollen rivers and blocked roads. As soon as they are able to, business owners should start assessing damage to their property and begin their insurance recovery process. They will need to assess not only physical damage to their property but also any income losses that may have occurred as a result of flooded and blocked roads and bridges, interrupted shipping and air transport, evacuations, and closures by civil authority.

They need to gather the information they’ll need for their insurer, and also be familiar with their policy and policy language. “In the runup to a storm, we always hear insurance executives on the news assuring the public that they will take care of things—that policyholders can rest assured,” Marshall Gilinsky, a shareholder in the insurance recovery group at Anderson Kill P.C., said in a statement. “But it’s vital for businesses not to assume everything’s going to be taken care of automatically. Storm-related claims can run into a snarl of unclear policy provisions, sublimits and exclusions, and occasionally obstreperous insurance company adjusters. A false sense of security leads easily to lost insurance proceeds.”

Businesses impacted by the storm that have flood insurance, he said, “should look for coverage not only for physical damage to their premises due to any flooding, but also business interruption and contingent business interruption coverage.” For best results, they should be sure they are up-to-date on how their insurer defines and invokes sublimits for “flood,” “storm surge” and “named storms” and how their insurer deals with claims that include damages from both wind and flood, Gilinsky said.

According to Galinsky, the following coverages (and coverage limits) will apply in a storm’s aftermath:

Business interruption or BI covers businesses for losses stemming from unavoidable interruptions in their daily operations.  BI coverage may be triggered by circumstances including a forced shut-down, a downturn in business due to damage to premises, or a substantial impairment in access to a business’s plant or premises.

Businesses that are not themselves forced to close may be able to tap contingent business interruption coverage, triggered when policyholders do not themselves suffer physical damage but still lose revenue after a property loss sidelines a major supplier or customer base.  Contingent BI is a standard provision in many property insurance policies, though many small businesses are not aware of it.

Also in play will be coverage for evacuation by order of civil authority, triggered when authorities close off access to a damaged area – and ingress egress coverage, which insures lost profits due to difficulties in accessing the insured premises due to the storm. Again, damage to the insured’s own property is not required to trigger coverage — though typically, the losses must result from property damage of a type covered by the insurance policy.

“Too many businesses do not think about insurance unless their premises are damaged—or if they do, they fail to calculate the full range of loss,” Gilinsky said. “Small businesses in particular may not even be aware of their civil authority, ingress egress and business interruption coverage, let alone their contingent business interruption coverage.”

He also noted that many commercial property insurance policies provide different sublimits for losses caused by “flood,” “storm surge” and “named storms.” How the policy defines these key terms can be critical in determining the amount recoverable for the policyholder’s loss.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America offered the following tips to help businesses through their recovery process.

Business Recovery Information

  • In the aftermath of natural disasters, businesses should take immediate steps to minimize damage, speed up the claims process and accelerate business recovery. Assess the damage and report all damage to your insurance company agent as soon as possible.
  • Take pictures of your building and contents to document the damage.
  • Check for safety hazards, such as downed trees, branches, downed power wires and leaking gas.
  • Keep all receipts for anything purchased for that purpose so they can be submitted to your insurance company.
  • Be prepared to list the “replacement cost” of each item and its actual cash value. Replacement cost is what it would cost today to replace an item with another one just like it. Actual cash value is what the item is really worth after deducting for depreciation and wear.
  • Restore your utilities, phone service, gas lines and other important links as soon as possible.
  • Business interruption coverage is complex and will vary by insurers. It is important to read your policy and understand what is and is not covered.
  • As you seek contractors to make repairs, deal only with reliable, licensed professionals. Get written bids from the contractor, but don’t sign any contracts or give a deposit until you have seen your insurance adjuster.
  • If you or your employees get involved in clean-up efforts, use safety items like proper eyewear, gloves, hardhats, dust masks and respirators.
  • Keep detailed records of business activity and extra expenses during the interruption period, and prepare records to show the income from the business both before and after the loss.

Hurricane Matthew Could Impact Renewals, Reinsurers

Downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday, Hurricane Matthew proceeded to work its way north, pummeling coastal regions of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, where rivers are overflowing and flooding continues. So far, Matthew has killed nearly 900 people in Haiti and 17 in the United States. More than 2 million U.S. homes and businesses lost power over the weekend, according to Reuters.

CoreLogic said today that it anticipates hurricane-related insured property losses for both residential and commercial properties to be between $4 billion and $6 billion from wind and storm surge damage. The amount does not include insured losses related to additional flooding, business interruption or contents.

CoreLogic: Hurricane Matthew Loss Contribution by County in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina

Willis Towers Watson said on Friday that the storm’s losses are not expected to adversely affect the insurance industry, due to abundant capacity. Organizations with upcoming renewals, however, may be impacted, the company warned.

“There will still be upset for the next couple of weeks, and underwriters will be skittish about renewing business until they calculate their losses,” Gary Marchitello, head of property broking at Willis Towers Watson, said in a statement. “Anyone with the misfortune of renewing programs with East or Gulf coast exposures over the next 4 to 6 weeks will be challenged to secure property coverage at favorable terms.”

Despite the excess capacity, the market is “ripe for an opportunity to turn,” and an event or aggregated events “will drive pricing adjustments,” he said.

Fitch Ratings said Hurricane Matthew will put pressure on earnings of some insurance underwriters in Florida and other southeast states but is “not expected to present a major capital challenge.” If storm insured losses exceed $10 billion, Fitch said a greater proportion of the losses will be borne by reinsurers as opposed to primary companies.

According to Fitch, the homeowner’s market share has shifted away from large national writers and the state-sponsored Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to a number of smaller Florida homeowners specialists. “A lack of storm activity over the last decade has substantially increased the claims paying resources to meet catastrophe losses, such as those arising from Matthew, of both Citizens and state-sponsored reinsurer, the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (FHCF),” Fitch said.

Primary insurers with the largest exposure in Florida are: Universal Insurance Holding Group, Tower Hill Group, State Farm Mutual Group, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and Federated National Insurance Company.

Property insurers writing business in Florida rely heavily on reinsurance protection and other methods to mitigate their risk of extreme loss. “As a result, the FHCF, the traditional and collateralized reinsurance markets and the catastrophe bond market could have meaningful exposure to losses from Matthew,” Fitch said. Fitch estimates that FHCF has assumed the largest level of premiums by a wide margin. Among private entities, Lloyd’s of London appears to be the next largest reinsurer followed by Allianz SE; Tokio Marine Holdings, Inc.; Everest Re Group, Ltd.; and XL Group Plc., Fitch said.

Anticipating Hurricane Matthew, 4 States Declare Emergency

Rebounding to Category 4 hurricane classification, Matthew now has winds up to 140 miles per hour and has caused at least 28 deaths in three Caribbean countries. It is heading for the southeastern U.S., where four states—Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina—have issued a state of emergency and evacuation orders in coastal regions.

Matthew was a Category 4 hurricane through Tuesday, was downgraded to a Category 3 early on Wednesday, and has now returned to Category 4 strength today, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a warning on Thursday urging those in evacuation zones to leave immediately. “Based on the current forecast, the heights of storm surge will be above ground. Waves will be crashing on roofs. Homes will be destroyed,” he tweeted in both English and Spanish on Thursday morning.

“Time is up, Hurricane Matthew is approaching Florida. If you are in an evacuation zone, leave now,” he said in a statement. “To everyone on Florida’s east coast, if you are reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people the hurricane has already killed.  You and your family could be among these numbers if you don’t take this seriously.”

Scott said that so far more than 4,000 National Guard members have been activated to help with evacuations and sheltering. He tweeted that as of 6:00 a.m., more than 3,000 people were in about 60 shelters. The state offers a mobile app to help those in flood-prone areas find the nearest shelter and also avoid traffic congestion.

A state of emergency has been declared by Georgia’s governor for 13 coastal counties. South Carolina’s governor declared a state of emergency and has begun coastal evacuations that may affect up to 1 million people. Because of heavy traffic, lane reversals on some highways are in effect, and schools and government offices in 25 South Carolina counties are closed today. North Carolina’s governor has declared a state of emergency for more than 50 counties and issued a mandatory evacuation order for Ocracoke Island, AIR Worldwide reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent personnel and supplies to all four states, and President Obama is meeting with FEMA officials coordinating the response to Hurricane Matthew at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

According to CoreLogic, a Category 3 storm hitting Miami could potentially damage 176,000 homes at a reconstruction cost value (RCV) of about $3.8 billion.

CoreLogic’s Storm Surge Risk Report estimates that more than 6.8 million homes located along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are at risk of storm surge damage, with a total RCV of about $1.5 trillion.The length of coastline, coastal elevation and density of residential development all contribute to the risk of storm surge flooding.

According to CoreLogic, the total number and total value of residential properties for the four states currently bracing for Hurricane Matthew are:

Total Number and Total Value of Residential Properties by State

P&C Insurers See $1.5 Billion Net Underwriting Loss in 1H

A deteriorated combined ratio seen by insurers along with slow net written premium growth contributed to net underwriting losses of $1.5 billion in the first half of 2016. Insurers’ combined ratio deteriorated to 99.8% from 97.6% in the first-half of 2015, and net written premium growth slowed to 3.0% from 4.1% a year earlier, according to a report from ISO and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).

The Insurance Information Institute’s Steven N. Weisbart explained:

In general, premiums may grow for any or all of several reasons. First, there is growth in the number and/or value of insurable interests (such as property and liability risks). Second, there is an increase in the willingness of buyers who had some or no insurance to purchase or add to their insurance protection, net of those who reduce or drop it. And third, there is an increase in rates (that is, the price per unit of coverage).

Net investment income dropped to $22.1 billion in the first-half from $23.4 billion a year earlier, and realized capital gains decreased to $4.4 billion from $8.2 billion, resulting in $26.5 billion in net investment gains for the first-half, down $5.1 billion from a year earlier.

Direct insured property losses from catastrophes in the United States totaled $13.5 billion in the first-half, up from $10.7 billion a year earlier—above the $11.6 billion average for first-half direct catastrophe losses for the past 10 years, according to the report.

“The industry’s results continued to worsen in the first half of the year, as insurers reported a first-half net underwriting loss for the first time since 2012 and saw their combined ratio exceed 99%,” Beth Fitzgerald, president of ISO Solutions, said in a statement. “Catastrophe losses remained higher than in previous years. Texas was hit by a hailstorm that has been described as the costliest in the state’s history, and several states in the central United States experienced severe thunderstorms. With interest rates and investment yields remaining low, insurers must find ways to improve operational efficiency while still providing valuable coverage for their policyholders.”

In the second quarter of this year, insurers’ net income after taxes fell to $8.3 billion from $12.9 billion in the second-quarter of 2015, and their combined ratio worsened to 102.1% in second-quarter 2016 from 99.4% a year earlier.

Their annualized rate of return on average surplus dropped to 4.9% in second-quarter 2016 from 7.7% a year earlier. Net written premiums rose 2.9% in second-quarter 2016 compared with 4.5% in second-quarter 2015.