Hailstorm a reminder to review insurance

The line of thunderstorms that pushed through the Columbus and Phenix City area nearly a week ago, leaving homes battered by hail and wind, also served as a reminder that homeowners should scrutinize their insurance policies each year.

There have been reports that some residents are finding that deductibles on damage to their roofs could be as high as $5,000. The issue stems from a number of states -- Georgia and Alabama included -- allowing insurers to charge higher deductibles for roof damage in the wake of hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the Gulf and Atlantic coasts in recent years.

Glenn Allen, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Insurance, which approves rate changes, confirmed Friday that higher deductibles are approved for several coastal counties. But that apparently is not the case for inland areas, although that could change.

"With recent inland storms producing heavy hail and high winds damage, Georgia could start seeing insurance companies filing (requests) for these types of deductibles," Allen said via email.

Such hail-and-wind deductibles often are pegged to the overall value of a home, with states allowing insurance companies to levy a deductible between 1 and 5 percent of a home's value. At 5 percent, that would equate to $5,000 on a $100,000 dwelling -- about the price of a new roof.

State Farm spokesman Justin Tomczak said the company doesn't "single out the perils of wind and hail" with the exception of communities along Georgia's coast. He also said that should be the case for Alabama, which is a major target for tropical storms and hurricanes each summer and fall.

"There's no separate wind deductible or anything like that for your folks," he said Friday. "We don't have anything in place like that now. It's just your standard deductible on the house."

Tomczak noted that State Farm does set minimum deductibles in the states it operates, with some customers in Georgia and Alabama possibly having minimums of $2,500.

"It can even be lower if you're a multi-line (policyholder), which is if you have your home and auto with us. That can lower your deductible even further," he said. "But that's just your minimum required deductible. People can choose to have a higher deductible, like $5,000, if they wanted to, and that can actually help reduce the premium that you pay. But that's a consumer choice issue."

As of late Friday, State Farm had received roughly 29,000 storm-damage claims combined in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, with about 9,500 of those in Georgia, said Tomczak, who did not have the Alabama total.

But the west Phenix City area and the Smiths Station portion of Lee County in Alabama apparently took a big hit, as did parts of Harris County in Georgia, with local roofers saying damage was extensive.

Hail reports ranged from pea-size to baseball-size pieces of ice.

Mark Parsley, owner of the roofing company IGreen Solutions, said he has run across a couple of homeowners in the Phenix City area who did have $5,000 deductibles.

And it left him shaking his head. He has done 15 to 20 storm inspections per day since Monday.

"Of course, the insurance company sends you your policy renewal in the mail. You're supposed to read the renewal, but most homeowners don't," said Parsley, who has seen cases where someone files a claim for a damaged roof, but doesn't meet the deductible and is told by the insurer to fix the damage out of their pocket or else they could face higher rates at the least, or at worst the possibility of having their policy canceled.

"The (hail and wind) endorsements are supposed to be beneficial and add coverage and keep rates down," Parsley said. "But when you have some homeowners with a smaller 1,500- or 2,000-square-foot house, they may never have filed a water or damage claim ever. And here it is, the one time they need their insurance company, they really don't have anything."

Mark Fowler, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Insurance, could not confirm Friday if insurers have been increasing hail and wind deductibles across the state.

He said the agency, which approves rates and licensed insurance agents, doesn't keep track of that information.

Tomczak said State Farm expects to see more claims filed by homeowners in the coming days, with the company setting up mobile claims units in various communities, but none in the Columbus area.

He noted there have been a large number of automobiles damaged by hail. But that is only covered through a comprehensive rider on the policy.

Collision and liability coverage does not include such damage.

If any customers have a question about what their home or auto policies cover, they should ask their insurance agent, he said.

"That's what they're there for, is to help you understand it," he said.

Allen at the Georgia Department of Insurance echoed that. If anyone has insurance policy concerns or complaints due to the storm damage, call 1-800-656-2298, he said.

The consumer number for the Alabama Department of Insurance is 334-241-4141 (8 a.m.-5 p.m. CDT) and 334-240-4431 (after hours).