Claims Shops Deploy Remote Adjusting For Storm Damages Expected to Top $4B

August 11, 2020

With insured losses projected to reach $4.2 billion, Hurricane Isaias’ rampage from the Caribbean to Canada was the first significant event from a claims perspective since Hurricane Irma struck Florida in 2017, a claims executive for Crawford & Co. said Monday.

Ken Tolson, president of Crawford’s U.S. operations, said most of the claims received by his company so far have come from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He said the company has about 100 adjusters in place in those states, enough to handle the first wave of claims spawned by Isaias. He said the company is sending in approximately 200 more adjusters to the region to handle any overload.

“They will handle claims as remotely as they can,” Tolson said. “It’s really about optimizing our workforce. The key is getting our people there. We are not waiting.”

Tolson said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a much larger share of claim inspections are being handled remotely. Crawford began testing remote claim inspections even before Irma struck Florida’s Gulf Coast in 2017, he said, and now can conduct much of its operations virtually.

“The seeds of readiness were planted in 2017 and before,” he said. “We were well on our way long before COVID, but COVID has forced us to be a lot more aggressive about it.”

Crawford & Co. has its work cut out for it. Catastrophe-modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. on Monday released a report that said Isaias caused an estimated $4 billion in insured losses in the United States and $200 million in the Caribbean.

The storm came ashore with 85 mph wind is Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. on Aug 3 and continued up the East Coast, crossing into Canada on Aug. 5. KCC said an unseasonably strong jet stream slowed the usual decay rate, allowing Isaias to maintain tropical storm-force winds all the way to Vermont. Wind speeds in New York City were the strongest since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Downed trees caused scattered structural damage and crushed vehicles in Isaias’ path, KCC said. Over three million customers along the Atlantic coast were without power following Isaias, and power had not been restored to all households as of Monday.

“Spotty low-level wind damage to roof coverings, siding, and window openings of commercial and residential buildings has been observed,” the KCC report said. “Severe structural damage appears to be isolated to older buildings or those impacted by the tornadoes spawned by Isaias. There have been instances of buildings with unique architectural features sustaining significant damage.”

Tolson said his company has investigated numerous claims related to fallen trees, but most were for relatively minor damage. He said the bigger impact for residents was the power outages caused by the storm. He said a lack of electric service was Crawford’s most serious obstacle for adjusting claims.

Tolson said power had still not been restored in some areas as late as Monday.

“That rain had soaked the ground and the big trees — those big, beautiful hardwoods — have taken the power infrastructure down,” he said.

Isaias also caused street flooding that led to a significant number of auto claims, said Phil Langley, vice president of client services for SCA Appraisals. He said fortunately, about 260 of the company’s 770 field adjusters live in the region struck by the storm.

Langley said SCA is also tackling a large share of its claims using remote technology. He said when a car is flooded above the floorboards, most of the time a photo is enough to complete the appraisal because the vehicle is a total loss.

Langley said so far, SCA has conducted virtual inspections for slightly more than half of the Isaias claims assigned to it.

About the photo: Mickey Parker-Jennings, of Athens, Vt., points to a tree limb that penetrated his bedroom after a tree crashed down on his home a day earlier as a result of Tropical Storm Isaias, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)

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