Bill addresses post-hurricane insurance disputes

Published 1:15 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

A U.S. senator from Mississippi is introducing a bill that tries to resolve wind-versus-water insurance disputes for structures wiped out by hurricanes.

Republican Roger Wicker said Thursday that his bill is called the COASTAL Act — Consumer Option for an Alternative System to Allocate Losses.

It would establish a formula to determine how much property loss is caused by wind and how much by water in hurricanes. The formula would apply only in cases where structures are left as slabs.

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Wicker said information about a hurricane would be gathered from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, academic institutions and private entities. A formula would be used for each destroyed structure, taking into account the construction characteristics of the building.

“I am convinced that a formula could be established that allocates responsibility from property to property,” Wicker said in a conference call from Washington

A formula could bring “more certainty to the marketplace” and could help persuade insurers to do business in coastal zones, he said.

Wind-versus-water disputes led to lengthy lawsuits in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Some policyholders were compensated for wind damage by their private insurers, while others received little or no compensation. Flood insurance is a federal program.

Wicker said he will seek co-sponsors for his bill.

Former U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., tried to push a bill to create multi-perils insurance similar to the National Flood Insurance Program, but his efforts never gained traction. Taylor was defeated by Republican Steven Palazzo this past November.

Wicker said that in writing the COASTAL Act, he gathered ideas from state insurance commissioners, coastal mayors, NOAA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.

He said he also spoke with representatives of insurance companies. Some like the proposal and some don’t, he said.

Some insurers like the proposal, some don’t and some are indifferent, Wicker said.