DALLAS — Insurance Council of Texas spokeswoman Camille Garcia said the number of insurance claims from the Valentine’s Day snowstorm will be the largest in Texas history, even surpassing Hurricane Harvey. Although the claim numbers haven’t come in just yet, the estimated costs will be in the billions.
Frozen pipes, water damage and automobile accidents are the horrible side effects of the extreme winter weather Texans have collectively faced in the last week, leading to the record number of insurance claims.
"We are so used to our events here in Texas, our severe weather events - hurricanes, hail, tornadoes - but they typically hit a region. So a city or maybe the Gulf Coast, but this one's hitting the entire state of Texas. So from that perspective, yes, the number of claims is just astronomical and the pace that we're seeing the claims come in, that's where we are projecting this to be in the hundreds of thousands, and to be one of the largest claim events here in Texas."
What started out for Texans as a welcome snow day of fun later turned into days of crippling cold from power loss, burst water pipes and home damage, and a complete lack of potable water for millions. The freeze reached all 254 counties in the state.
“One of our member companies was sharing that they received more claims in the last week from Texas — relative to water damage claims — than they had nationwide all last year. So, yeah, that is a pretty large number there and and that gives a little bit of perspective as to the impact Texas is having on not only the insurance industry, but every other contractor, plumber, repairmain, you know, that industry as well. It really is going to stretch those folks to capacity.”
So when it comes to filing insurance claims, here’s what Garcia says you need to know:
- Know your policy, talk with your insurance agent to discuss specific coverage, document conversations
- For those with broken and frozen pipes, which Garcia says is the bulk of the claims, shut off your water to prevent leaks once thawing occurs
- Document any and all damage and repairs in writing, and with pictures and videos, and track clean-up hours
- Save any receipts from home repair supply purchases
- Hire reputable and recommended contractors, try to get referred contractors with a good track record
The majority of the adjusters may be working virtually, so the good news is that may lead to a more expedited turnaround, but be patient, they’ve got a lot of claims to process
“You’ll want to take steps to minimize your damages, making sure that your health and safety are primary. So, if it's contacting that plumber and they need to make repairs. I as a homeowner would make those emergency repairs. What you need to do, however, is just make sure you keep receipts. Keep that documentation so, again, when you have that conversation with your adjuster, make sure that those emergency repairs, you have the invoice and the description of what occurred during that time,” Garcia said. "You want to know exactly what kind of coverage is extended to you. There is no way to just make a blanket statement and say ‘yes, it's all covered’ or ‘no it's not covered,’ because so many policies vary."
When asked if there was an estimated turnaround time for when claims will be processed, Garcia said that claims are ongoing. For example, after Hurricane Harvey, people were in recovery still three years later.
“And that could be anything from, you know, still continuing the claim process. That could be waiting for the contractor. That could be waiting for a number of things. I think that as we look at the claims process, communications, patience, perseverance is going to be key,” Garcia said. "One of the things that our customers have to know is that that initial conversation doesn't mean the claim has has come to an end. You know, if there is additional damage or if there is — when a contractor starts working and says, ‘Oh, you know what, after I pulled off this wall, I saw additional damage here, I saw this pipe starting to leak here,’ those are the kinds of conversations that you need to revisit with your adjuster.”
Above all, Garcia says, don’t fall for scams. Protect yourself from the get-go and hire trusted contractors for repair work.
“Unfortunately, here in Texas, after every, just about every severe weather event, we see a spike in fraud. And, you know, we look at that, we want to make sure that consumers understand that this is one of those areas that they need to protect themselves from the beginning,” Garcia said. "It's unfortunate, but there are those who prey on others’ challenges. And so we want to make sure that folks are aware that they really need to take steps to protect themselves to avoid being a victim second time.”
For renters and homeowners without insurance, Gov. Greg Abbott requested a federal disaster declaration that was granted that would include possible reimbursement assistance from FEMA.
“If you have damage from these storms, or have been severely impacted, check your insurance policies or call your local agent for assistance you may be eligible to receive,” Abbott said.
Mayors from across Texas signed a request for FEMA to extend reimbursable expenses for damages due to the storm and the mandated blackouts.