Insurance companies reach out to fire victims

sjones@thesunnews.comMarch 18, 2013 

Firefighters, law enforcement and forestry service work the scene at the Windsor Green community in Carolina Forest on Sunday, March 17, 2013. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com

— State Farm agents began calling their Windsor Green clients Saturday night trying to determine who were victims of a fire that destroyed 26 buildings in the complex and what help they needed.

Agent Tony McAfee went to the shelter that night where he found one client, a woman who owned a unit in a building that was not seriously damaged.

McAfee said he’s dealt with people’s losses in other instances, but this time was different.

“These are my neighbors,” he said. “These are people I see every day.”

State Farm had received 36 homeowner and 12 auto claims by Monday afternoon, and Justin Tomczak, a public affairs specialist for the company, said that number is expected to go up.

In addition to State Farm, agents of other companies and the S.C. Department of Insurance responded to the fire Monday, and Russ Dubisky, director of the S.C. Insurance News Service, said agents and adjusters were on site helping victims with the early stage of their recovery.

But only State Farm, the largest insurer in the complex, sent out a call for additional adjusters.

“I don’t want to make it sound like it’s overwhelming,” Dubisky said.

There are plenty of agents and adjusters on the ground to make the process as easy as it can be.

McAfee said State Farm coverage includes up to two years of housing for owners and renters, and agents were writing checks to victims on Monday.

“We know those folks have total loss,” he said, and the company wanted them to have money to buy clothing and other essentials that went up in smoke.

The state insurance department is also ready to help, said spokeswoman Ann Roberson.

She said the department can help people who lost their insurance policies and may not know who their local agent is. The department can find the policies of those people who know what company insures them.

Roberson said she recalls one couple who didn’t have their policy and couldn’t remember the name of the company after Hurricane Floyd and sought the department’s help.

“It’s a horrible situation,” Roberson said of lives ripped apart by Saturday’s fire. “It’s devastating.”

The department maintains a consumer hotline, 1-800-768-3467, and information is available online at http://doi.sc.gov/consumer/Pages/index.aspx. People who have trouble with insurance may file a complaint online at https://online.doi.sc.gov/Eng/Public/Consumer/Complaint.aspx.

The telephone line is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday.

State Farm customers can call 1-800-SFclaim (732-5246) or go to www.statefarm.com to file claims.

Tomczak said in an email that people whose homes were not destroyed should take pictures of the damage and make reasonable temporary repairs to prevent further damage when it is safe to do so. Those spending money before an insurance claim is filed or settled should keep receipts of the money they spend.

Officials are also warning those who need repairs to be careful who they deal with.

Anyone who shows up at your residence without an appointment and says they represent your insurer or are there at the request of your insurer should not be given permission until policyholders contact their insurer. He also said that homeowners should choose only bonded and licensed contractors. Request references. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau or ask the bureau for assistance in finding a professional contractor. Residents can contact the BBB through bbb.org or by calling 843-488-2227.

The BBB urges residents to get three separate bids on the job, ask for references and try to stick with local companies.

“Definitely check them out first,” said Kathy Graham, president and CEO of the BBB serving the Coastal Carolina region. “I would hate to see people get burned twice [first by the fire, then by a scam].”

McAfee said he didn’t know Monday how many State Farm customers seeking insurance were owners and how many renters.

He said that nationally, fewer than three in 10 renters have insurance. Many of those who do, he said, underestimate the value of the personal property they want covered.

He said State Farm sells policies that cover up to $20,000 of personal property loss for $185 to $200 per year. But he wasn’t confident that $20,000 would be enough for most renters.

“(That amount) doesn’t cover a whole lot,” he said.

Some renters also make the mistake of thinking they are protected against losses by the homeowner’s policy, but McAfee emphasized that’s not true. The homeowner’s policy will cover damage to the structure and the homeowner’s personal property, but won’t cover the personal property of renters.

Editor-senior reporter Dawn Bryant contributed to this report.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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