Insurance companies, repair shops still handling spring storm damage

06/09/2012 5:00 AM

06/09/2012 3:16 PM

Hail damage from last month’s storm in Sedgwick County may not have been as severe as past storms, but it bruised shingles and dimpled cars over an area widespread enough to keep many local businesses busy for a year.

Roofers, sheet metal workers, auto body shops and insurance adjusters were still busy from the April tornado that swept through south Wichita when the May 30 storm hit, bringing 70 mile-an-hour winds and golf-ball size hail.

In fact, Mother Nature has been a boon to those businesses since the recession.

Storms inflicted a record $1 billion in losses in Kansas in 2011, according to the Kansas Insurance Department. In three of the past four years, storm losses in Kansas were 30 percent above previous records.

And the storms have kept up a furious pace so far in 2012. No fewer than 29 hail storms have pounded the state since February, according to the department, including six in Sedgwick County.

“Basically, this is God’s stimulus package,” said Mike Heiland, of Heiland Roofing.

Damage estimates weren’t taken after the May 30 storm in Wichita because emergency management officials determined the damage wouldn’t be severe enough to trigger a request for federal disaster relief, said Randy Duncan, Sedgwick County Emergency Management director.

But there was enough damage to prompt large insurance companies to send help, and to keep local businesses busy.

“It’s just crazy,” Heiland said of his roofing business. “I don’t know what we’ve taken in calls, but it’s way up there.

“I think it’ll be all the way through next summer getting this damage repaired,” he said.

Heiland said he’s starting to see out-of-town roofers come into the area in the past few days, and cautioned customers to investigate before hiring them.

“There’s a lot of risk there on the side of the consumer.”

People can check with the Wichita Area Builders Association or the city of Wichita’s Office of Central Inspection to determine reputable companies, he said.

Thousands of claims

A week after the storm, Larry Greider, owner of Auto Masters Service Center, 2222 N. Hoover, said 10 to 12 insurance adjusters were at his store writing up an average of eight to 10 vehicles every 30 minutes. Auto Masters was taking care of 15 cars a day.

“It’s crazy right now. It’s probably the busiest I’ve ever seen it,” Greider said.

Auto dealerships on the east side of Wichita were hit by hail, but not severely. Dawson Grimsley, president of Davis-Moore Auto Group, said his cars on that side of town were struck, but not badly damaged.

“It shouldn’t be any big deal fixing the cars and making them look all brand new again,” he said

Some of the larger insurance companies such as State Farm, Allstate and Progressive sent outside claims representatives to Wichita after the storm. Jim Camoriano, State Farm spokesman, said 13 to 20 State Farm claims representatives from a national team that deploys to sites of catastrophes are still in Wichita. Within a week of the storm, State Farm customers statewide had submitted 1,302 homeowner claims and 3,282 auto claims, he said.

Stephanie Howell, an Allstate spokeswoman, said several agents from that company’s national team remain in Wichita to help keep the claims process running smoothly.

Both companies have set up extra sites to handle customers.

Wichita Allstate agent Tracy Rutledge said her office has seen steady business since the storm.

“I would say we’ve had more roof claims than auto claims,” she said. “People look more seriously at their roofs because it’s a bigger investment.”

Protecting yourself

The decision whether to file a claim isn’t always easy in cases where damage isn’t severe.

“It’s a little bit like being sick and trying to decide whether to go to the doctor,” said Bob Tomlinson, assistant state insurance commissioner.

He advised people to contact their insurance companies if there is damage. On the other hand, he said, they should be aware that insurance companies keep track of the number of claims a customer files.

“If you call them after every storm, they will very quickly drop your coverage because they are going to know that if you ever do have damage, you are going to file a claim at the least little amount, and they’re going to know your house is prone to such things,” he said. “Like the doctor, you do not want to go if you can possibly avoid it.”

A person’s insurance rates won’t go up simply for filing a claim, Tomlinson said. But rates could go up based on an insurer’s overall losses within that person’s community, as well as a host of other factors, such as type of insurance policy, age of the home, which fire department covers them, and theft and vandalism rates in the area.

But insurance companies have to file rate increases with the state, and, by law, they can’t raise rates more than 12 percent without being scrutinized by the state insurance department.

For people who suffered loss or damage from a storm and contacted their insurance agents, the state insurance department recommends keeping a record of conversations with agent or company, making a list and taking photographs of damaged property, and getting instructions from the insurance company’s adjuster before hiring someone to repair or replace damaged property.

The department also recommends that people be present when an adjuster inspects the property, be leery of an adjuster who charges a fee, be aware of questionable or unfamiliar contractors, get more than one bid for repairs, and don’t accept an unfair settlement. People should contact the state insurance department if they can’t agree on a settlement with their insurer.

In anticipation of more storms, people should find out what their home and auto policies cover, know the pre-storm condition of their homes, make an inventory of their property, photograph and video each room and the exterior of the home, list model and serial numbers, and keep receipts for big-ticket items, the department advises.

People should keep a copy of the inventory, sales receipts and videos or photographs in a safe place outside the home.

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