Barbecues, Mobile Centers Encourage S. Fla. Policyholders to Turn in Wilma Auto Damage Claims

November 4, 2005

South Florida insurance companies are encouraging the thousands of automobile owners who had vehicles damaged during Hurricane Wilma to report them as soon as possible so they can be repaired, some agencies are even holding weekend barbecues to encourage their customers to come and fill out their paperwork.

United Automobile Insurance, with offices in North Miami Beach, set up an impromptu claims processing center with claims reps and adjusters, and even had a barbecue in front of its offices last weekend. United Auto plans to have another barbecue that started on Friday and it will continue Saturday and Sunday. It has handled about 1,800 Wilma-related claims so far.

Joe Soto, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance of Florida told the Miami Herald that it has set up seven claims centers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Consumers file claims, have adjusters inspect damage and possibly settle a claim and get a check on the spot. State Farm has received some 38,000 auto claims so far, more than it saw after all of last year’s storms, and surpassing Katrina’s claims.

The claims resulted from falling trees and flying debris whipped up by Hurricane Wilma’s winds, which left many cars in South Florida with dents and dings, smashed windshields and windows, some totally crushed. Already, insurers are seeing more claims than they saw after this year’s and last year’s other storms.

Nearly two-dozen insurers are working out of the two ”insurance villages,” set up in Hialeah and Plantation by the state’s Department of Financial Services, to help consumers file claims and answer insurance-related questions.

Safelite Auto Glass, which repairs and replaces auto windshields and windows, told the Herald business has jumped 83 percent in the first three days of this week as its technicians worked 12 to 15 hours to handle hurricane-related work.

Safelite has four locations in South Florida and two mobile units, which make house or work calls to do repairs. The company also plans to bring in 20 to 30 technicians from out-of-state to help handle claims here.

Jack Russell, a spokesman for the Columbus, Ohio-based company, said last week was unusually slow because many residents with auto damage couldn’t report claims because they had no power or phone service. Some couldn’t venture from home because of the gas shortage, debris-clogged roads or the curfew enforced in South Florida.

Despite a large volume of claims, Progressive said it’s been able to respond quickly to policyholders.

William Perry, a company spokesman, said the Mayfield Village, Ohio,-based insurer is closing out claims in about 4-½ days. It has closed 20 percent of its Wilma claims so far and hopes to have 35 percent settled by Sunday.

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