Private-Sector Insurers to Pay More Than $32B in Claims From Natural Disasters in 2011

Insurance companies will pay more than $32 billion in claims to help people rebuild homes and businesses damaged or destroyed by natural disasters in 2011, a record year for federal disaster declarations, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

“Catastrophes striking the United States in the first nine months of 2011 caused $32.6 billion in direct insured losses, nearly double the $18.6 billion in catastrophe-caused direct insured losses insurers generally incur over the first nine months of any given year,” said Dr. Robert Hartwig, CPCU, the president of the I.I.I. and an economist, citing figures released earlier this month by ISO’s Property Claim Services. “The $32.6 billion figure doesn’t even include the significant insured losses which arose after the pre-Halloween snowstorm, which caused enormous damage to multiple states along the Atlantic seaboard. Coupled with other events in 2011’s fourth quarter, direct insured losses could exceed $35 billion this year.”

Despite the frequency and severity of 2011’s natural catastrophes in the U.S., policyholders’ surplus—insurers’ net worth measured according to Statutory Accounting Principles—fell only four percent to $538.6 billion as of September 30, 2011, as compared to $559.2 billion at year-end 2010.

“The policyholders’ surplus number is a sure sign that U.S. property/casualty insurers remain well-capitalized, and capable of paying future claims,” Dr. Hartwig stated.

The federal government declared on 99 separate occasions this year that a major disaster existed after a natural disaster had occurred, easily breaking the previous record (81), which was set in 2010, the I.I.I. said. The federal government’s designation makes federal funding available to individuals and businesses impacted adversely by the named disaster. The most recent declaration was on December 22, 2011, and had its origins in the severe snowstorms and flooding which occurred in Alaska between November 8 and 10, 2011. The 99 disaster declarations are nearly triple the average of 34 per year dating back to 1953. The I.I.I. developed three PowerPoint slides which place 2011’s natural disasters in historical perspective.

Moreover, the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced this month that the U.S. was the site of 12 separate weather/climate disasters, each of which caused at least $1 billion in aggregate damage in 2011. The previous record, set in 2008, was nine, according to NOAA.

To date, the U.S. set a record with 12 separate billion-dollar weather/climate disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $52 billion. (This number reflects both insured and uninsured losses). These events were: