Coverage Lessons Learned

Katrina Revisited

Brokers urge policyholders to understand their policies and avoid the harsh surprises insureds faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
By: | July 1, 2015

Suffering losses from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was bad enough for many businesses and individuals, but to make matters worse for many, certain losses were not covered by their insurance policies.

So said several Marsh experts during a June 17 webinar entitled, “Lessons from Hurricane Katrina, Looking Back, Planning Ahead,” which outlined ways in which Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans almost 10 year ago, impacted insurance underwriting, business interruption and claims handling.

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The first lesson learned: businesses should thoroughly read their commercial property policies before they purchase them, said Duncan Ellis, leader of Marsh’s U.S. property practice. However, far too many find out the hard way what’s in their policies — or not in them —  after sustaining major losses from catastrophes and other events.

“That’s the wrong time to find out that you are not covered for something, or that certain conditions do not apply,” Ellis said.

“After Katrina, many of our clients were sorely surprised to learn that despite having windstorm coverage, they weren’t covered for storm surge. Understanding what you are buying really can pay off.”

Ellis and Paul McVey, leader of Marsh Risk Consulting’s property claims consulting practice, outlined a number of “tripwires” in property policies that occurred after Katrina, for business owners to now be mindful of in case of future events.

The goal when dealing with major catastrophes is for insurers and policyholders to work as allies, McVey said. As part of a policyholder’s loss management plan, they should meet with their carrier and agree upon communication protocols and upon each party’s roles and responsibilities after an event. They should determine the appropriate carrier representative with the authority to make decisions on claims.

“After Katrina, many of our clients were sorely surprised to learn that despite having windstorm coverage, they weren’t covered for storm surge. Understanding what you are buying really can pay off.” — Duncan Ellis, U.S. property practice leader, Marsh

“What we see after Katrina, when decisions had to be made as to reinstatement, replacement, mitigation, there weren’t a lot of people involved at [carriers’] mid-management level to make those decisions,” he said. “That put the process on hold to a degree, and some of the things became confrontational. Insureds should make the effort to establish a relationship with an empowered senior claims representative.”

Other policy tripwires that caught businesses by surprise in Katrina that all businesses should now be aware of include:

  • Determining the exact definition of special high-hazard flood zones, such as a 100-year flood plain, and how damage within those zones can impact sublimits. Typically within policy sublimits are further internal sublimits for these special zones. For example, if a business has a $200 million sublimit for flood, it is probable that there is a further internal sublimit of $50 million for high-hazard flood.
  • Understanding policy definitions that determine whether an event was a named windstorm or a flood, which can impact whether the policy excludes surges from wind-driven water.
  • Determining how coverage is typically triggered by civil or military authority and ingress/egress. There have been disputes about whether Katrina claims regarding ingress/egress issues should be paid after politicians told people to stay away from New Orleans, as carriers have argued that those politicians were actually not acting with civil or military authority.
  • Determining how “wide area impact” or “idle period” impacts claims.
  • Determining whether contingent business interruption coverage extends not only to suppliers or customers, but also to suppliers of suppliers and customers of customers.
  • Determining the scope, time limits and corresponding disappearing deductibles within contingent business interruption coverage due to local utility companies’ service interruptions.
  • Determining whether deductibles apply by occurrence and/or by location, and whether there are separate deductibles for property damage and “time element.”
  • Determining whether costs, such as overtime for contractors rebuilding properties, fall under sublimits or “expediting expenses.”
  • Determining what is — and is not — covered under business interruption, and how claim costs may be calculated.
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“The property damage piece is very easy to figure out, but business interruption is probably the most misunderstood coverage and probably the most difficult in settling claims,” Ellis said.

“It’s not replacing revenues — it’s replacing profits lost and continuing expenses that the property generates when it’s not operational. For example, a continuing expense could be taxes and non-continuous expenses could be heat, light and power.”

Also often misunderstood is the indemnity period for contingent business interruption claims, McVey said. The timeframe is typically defined as the time to replace, reinstate or repair the property, but businesses should be aware that many variables could impact payment of claims. That’s why it’s so important to discuss these issues ahead of time with their broker or claims representative — particularly before renewal.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]