More than 452,000 insurance claims have been filed in Florida, totaling just over $2.7 billion, since Hurricane Irma hit, but preliminary estimates show that number could rise to $100 billion, more than four times the cost of Hurricane Andrew.
“The claim numbers are going to be higher. The dollar values of the buildings are going to be larger, but Florida's insurance market can handle this," policy holder attorney Nicole Vinson said. “There's also attorneys who only assist policy holders with these claims, and they're going to answer your questions on a pro-bono basis at this point in time.”
Hurricane Irma caused an estimated $19.4 billion in wind-related damages in Florida, with the heaviest losses in Collier and Lee counties, according to a team led by a Florida International University researcher.
The report estimates that $6.3 billion will be covered by property insurance companies, while the remaining two-thirds of the damages, which do not include flood losses, will be borne by homeowners.
"This is not surprising given the high level of hurricane deductibles and the less intense tropical storm in most of Florida," said Shahid Hamid, director of the Laboratory for Insurance, Financial and Economic Research, located in the International Hurricane Research Center at FIU.
The report made its projections using the Florida Public Hurricane Loss Model, which the state created to evaluate financial risks faced by insurance companies that write windstorm policies. The FIU researchers said insurance companies typically cover 25 to 45 percent of the losses for a Category 1 storm, while payments increase to 85 percent for the strongest Category 5 storms.
Irma struck the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 10 and made a second landfall at Marco Island as a Category 3 storm, before weakening as it moved up the Florida peninsula.
The state Office of Insurance Regulation reported that 452,205 claims had been filed as of 4 p.m. Wednesday, up from 372,281 on Tuesday and 333,500 on Monday.
Residential property made up 382,967 of the claims in the latest tally.
By comparison, Hurricane Matthew, which skirted the state's East Coast last year, resulted in 119,345 claims and under $1.2 billion in losses.
Less than 54 percent of the claims filed for Matthew -- 63,817 -- have so far been settled with payments.
To make sure Floridians are getting the most out of their policies, the Florida Department of Financial Services is traveling around the state, setting up events to help those affected by the storm file claims.
“To go out there and help the outreach of connecting people together and filing the claims process to get them back to some normalcy," State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said.
It’s imperative to contact your insurance company before signing any contracts with repair companies to ensure you don’t sign away your rights and benefits to your policy.
“We're encouraging folks to be very, very careful when following a storm if someone comes up and is offering you repair services. Read what you're signing. We're telling folks to be very careful of signing their rights away," said Michael Peltier, of Citizens Insurance.
To date the average value of claims files is roughly $6,000.
Events have already been held in St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Naples, and Lehigh Acres. Patronis said another event to be held in the Keys is currently in the works.
FIU's damage estimates are based on preliminary wind-field data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will be updated when more data becomes available, the researchers said.
Other members of the team, which included specialists in meteorology, storm surge, hydrology, engineering, finance, computer science and statistics, were from the University of Florida, Florida State University, the Florida Institute of Technology, the University of Miami and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
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