Citizens Making Improvements; Advises Policyholders, Prepare Now for Hurricanes

With the start of hurricane season, June 1, just days away, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is advising policyholders to make preparations now, before a possible storm. The state’s insurer of last resort is also announcing improvements it ways will better serve policyholders in the event of a disaster.

“We are better prepared than ever to assist our policyholders if a storm strikes this hurricane season,” Bob Ricker, Citizens’ executive director said. “We’re advising our policyholders to take steps to prepare now, including a thorough review of their insurance coverage.”

According to Ricker, invaluable lessons were learned from last year’s devastating hurricanes. Citizens’ most crucial change involves an overhaul of adjuster management. Prior to last year’s storm season, Citizens relied solely on outside, contractual adjusters to handle all aspects of hurricane claims, including customer service. Beginning with the 2005 storm season, Citizens will directly manage both company employees and adjusting firms in the processing and payment of claims. Utilizing two fully operational Catastrophe Centers in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Citizens’ Catastrophe Team will provide more efficient claims handling and better overall customer service.

“This new model for adjusting will allow us to better manage the claims process to make sure our policyholders receive the quick and complete service they deserve,” Ricker said.

Citizens will open a regional claims service office in Miami-Dade County this year, with additional offices expected to open in 2006. Nearly 25 percent of all Citizens policyholders are in Miami-Dade County.

“By having claims offices directly in our communities, we’ll be able to deliver faster service and have a dedicated command center during a catastrophe,” Ricker said.

Citizens has also added enhanced technology and increased customer service staff levels for its consumer hotline. Citizens’ hurricane claims reporting hotline is 1-866-411-2742.

Ricker also advised Citizens policyholders to review their insurance coverage with their insurance agent before a possible hurricane.

Citizens policyholders should review their insurance coverage to ensure that coverage limits accurately match the value of the home. This should not include costs attributable to land value, only the cost to rebuild the structure. Policyholders should also consider purchasing additional coverage for hazards not covered under standard homeowners policies, including flood damage. Beachfront residents and others in flood-prone areas should purchase flood coverage equal to the replacement cost of the home.

Many policyholders in Panhandle areas affected by Hurricane Ivan found they were underinsured for flood damage following the massive storm surge which caused widespread flood damage to coastal property.

“Flood coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program,” Ricker said. “Talk with your agent about purchasing this coverage and Excess Flood coverage if your home’s value exceeds $250,000.”

Citizens advises all policyholders to:

• Review your annual hurricane deductible, which is typically 2 to 5 percent of the insured value of your home.

• Check to see if you have actual cash value or replacement coverage for your belongings. Actual cash value coverage pays only the depreciated value of your property.

• Verify that your policy information is correct, including making sure your mortgage company information accurately appears on your policy.

“Keep your policy documents safe,” Ricker said. “Place copies of your policy in your safe deposit box or leave them with an out-of-town relative.”