Hurricane Season Over, but Many Louisiana Residents Still Waiting for Insurance Relief

After the Atlantic hurricane season ended Tuesday, lawmakers in Louisiana held a hearing Wednesday to assess insurance complaints from many residents in the southeastern portion of the state as they continue to recover from Hurricane Ida, according to the Associated Press.

The Category 4 storm hit the coast Aug. 29 as one of 21 named storms from this year's hurricane season, and one of eight that impacted the coast, according to NPR.

Residents cited slow responses from insurance companies, being forced to deal with multiple claims adjusters, which meant frequently restarting the process, and subpar offers from the companies, causing many to threaten or actually file litigation to ensure they received a fair offer.

One of the many impacted by the storm who spoke was Republican state Senator Mike Fesi, who told the committees he has waited 90 days to receive an offer from his insurance company for the damage to his home.

"Just the not-knowing is worse than anything else. Either you're going to get paid or you're not," Fesi said. "I can't say whether the companies are procrastinating on purpose."

Due to the extensive damage caused by the storm, the state's Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon gave insurance companies an extra 30 days on top of the state requirement of making contact with the person making the claim within one month. The move was questioned by some lawmakers, speculating that it could contribute to the complaints they were hearing.

Donelon said, however, that most of the complaints he had received said that after the first contact from insurance companies, many claimants then faced an extended period of silence while they waited to hear about next steps.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Louisiana, Hurricane Ida, Insurance Companies
Louisiana lawmakers field complaints from residents who have been waiting as long as 90 days for an offer from insurance companies to repair damage from Hurricane Ida. Above, Josh Montford rests his head in his hand while going through his flood-damaged home in the aftermath of the storm, on Sept. 1, 2021, in Jean Lafitte. John Locher/Associated Press

Frustrated lawmakers urged Donelon to help them devise ideas for improving the industry's response to hurricanes. They say they are seeing the same problems that Louisiana encountered after last year's hurricanes, Laura, Delta and Zeta.

"It's very sickening what we've just heard," said Representative Kathy Edmonston, a Republican from Gonzales. "Obviously, something needs to be done."

Donelon said he'll propose some ideas for the 2022 regular legislative session, but offered no immediate suggestions for how to speed up claims settlements. The Republican insurance regulator has urged people with problems to file formal complaints with his office and has held town hall meetings to help people with claims issues.

"The number one complaint is delays: slow-pay and no-pay," said Doug Quinn, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group the American Policyholder Association, which is tracking insurance issues after Ida.

Donelon said he didn't yet have data on how many property insurance claims have been filed from Ida. About $10.5 billion was paid for claims related to 2020's Laura, Delta and Zeta, he said.

He and lawmakers also said they're hearing complaints about the "churning of adjusters," with people seeing a changing group of employees involved in assessing their home or business damage rather than a consistent point of contact handling their claims.

"People call my office and say, 'I've got my third adjuster and I've got to start all over again,'" said Senate Insurance Chairman Kirk Talbot, a Republican from River Ridge.

Insurance industry representatives said the state doesn't have enough adjusters to handle a hurricane on the scale of Ida and they brought in people from elsewhere to help.

Two of Louisiana's largest insurers — State Farm Insurance and Allstate Insurance Company — said they have closed about 82% of damage claims filed from Ida. Allstate reported receiving 42,000 Ida claims, and State Farm more than 53,000 claims. Louisiana Farm Bureau said it's wrapped up 99% of its nearly 9,200 Ida claims.

Rodney Braxton, representing State Farm, defended the company as working through claims in a "timely fashion."

"I don't know that anybody will ever be satisfied when your home is destroyed, but we put our best effort in," he said.

But closing a claim doesn't always involve payment and doesn't always mean that claims are fully resolved. Customers can still seek additional payments.

Similar insurance problems plagued the response to Hurricane Laura in southwest Louisiana.

Lawyer Cooper Fournet, who said he represents hundreds of property owners with Laura damage, said a settlement process created after the hurricane has been helpful in closing outstanding claims disputes with insurers.

But Senator Mike Reese, a Leesville Republican who represents areas damaged by Laura, said customers shouldn't have to file litigation to reach satisfactory settlements with their insurance companies.

"It's unfair to all of these citizens who have been so negatively impacted," Reese said.

Louisiana, Hurricane Ida, Insurance Companies
Louisiana lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday to address complaints from residents still waiting for an offer from insurance companies to repair damage from Hurricane Ida. Above, an electrical substation stands in the wake of Ida on September 4, 2021, in Grand Isle. Sean Rayford/Getty Images