Tenn. Tornado Claims Exceed $452M

June 14, 2006

Insurance claims from the April tornadoes in Tennessee have climbed to $452 million, and some homeowners and business owners say their efforts to rebuild are being slowed by settlement delays and swamped contractors.

Tornadoes and severe storms April 2 and April 7 in West and Middle Tennessee left 35 people dead, 281 injured and thousands of damaged buildings and vehicles.

The Insurance Services Office, a New Jersey-based provider of statistical insurance information, estimates 18,000 claims on losses totaling $61.5 million have been filed for the April 2 storms. The April 7 storms have produced 70,000 claims with $391 million in insured losses.

The Gallatin home of Jake Peeler was smashed by the storm but the traveling salesman is rebuilding. His house had been underinsured to save on the cost of premiums but Peeler, 76, said he won’t do that again.

“I told my agent, ‘You get prepared. I’m going to write in everything,'” Peeler said.

Others are not so lucky to be moving ahead.

Some are waiting for insurance payments or government assistance. Others can’t find a contractor. Those who had vehicles damaged are finding months-long backups at body shops.

The owner of the Goodlettsville Foodland grocery store is waiting for his insurance settlement. Although the shell of the store remains, he lost the roof, windows, coolers, shelving and exterior sign.

“I wish this whole thing would have gone down,” said owner J.J. Haddad. “It’s like fixing an old car. It’s hard. Everything is wrong with it.”

Haddad kept 11 of his employees and laid off 11 part-timers. He said his out-of-pocket expenses for workers’ wages and repairs to his business have hit $78,000. He expects to be reimbursed by his insurance company, Penn National.

A Penn National spokesman wouldn’t discuss specific clients but said commercial claims, especially for retail operations, can be more complicated to settle than homeowner claims.

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