Official: 2 firms to pick up unrenewed policies

Published 3:23 am Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nationwide and Allstate will insure homes along the Mississippi coast where the current insurer decided not to renew policies, officials said Friday.

The State Farm Insurance Cos. action involves 892 policies within 1,000 feet of Mississippi Gulf Coast waters, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Another nearly 4,000 State Farm customers living between 1,000 feet and 2,500 feet of the water will be able to keep some State Farm insurance, but not wind coverage.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said Friday that Nationwide Insurance and Allstate Insurance Co. agreed to pick up State Farm policies along the water, though it’s unlikely the insurers will provide wind coverage.

“I feel confident that the people on the Gulf Coast that have been canceled by State Farm will be able to buy insurance from Allstate and Nationwide and others that I have not announced,” Chaney said.

Chaney said wind coverage is likely to be provided in the area only through the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association, also known as the wind pool. The wind pool offers insurance in areas deemed too risky by private companies, which are paid for by assessments charged to any insurer that writes policies in the state.

Nationwide spokesman Joe Case confirmed the company has agreed to insure homes in the area “if the dwelling fits our underwriting criteria.” However, the company does not offer wind coverage in Mississippi’s three coastal counties.

April Eaton, an Allstate spokeswoman, said the company continues to write policies on the Mississippi coast if customers also use Allstate for their auto insurance. It also helps it customers secure wind coverage through the wind pool.

State Farm is not renewing the policies because of “serious concerns about the legal environment in Mississippi and its impact on the Mississippi property insurance market,” the company said Wednesday in a letter to Chaney.

State Farm, which along with other companies had major claims after Katrina, had already stopped writing new policies in Mississippi after an intense legal battle with Attorney General Jim Hood over what damages caused by the hurricane would be covered.

The dispute culminated in February 2007 with the company saying the state’s “legal and political environment is simply untenable” to write more policies in Mississippi.

Besides not renewing policies, State Farm also requested a statewide rate increase that averages 13.6 percent. Most of the increases apply to the coast and need the insurance commissioner’s approval.

Hood responded to news of the requested rate increase by saying State Farm “has consistently made billions of dollars in pure profit annually before, during and after Katrina.”

“The gall of this company is immeasurable in its demand for a rate increase, when it has not even paid all that it owes the people of Mississippi,” Hood said.

But State Farm says it has paid more than $1.3 billion in claims.

“Jim Hood’s inflammatory and unfounded comments are a sad reminder of why Mississippi continues to be a volatile legal and business environment,” State Farm spokesman Jonathan Freed said. “Over the past decade in Mississippi, State Farm has paid more in claims than it has collected in premiums.”