Winter: A Season of Claims

By Edward Cammarato November 3, 2011

The October 29 snowstorm on the East Coast reminded us that winter is fast approaching — and that none of us can know for certain what’s going to happen next. As described in Insurance Journal, insurers are already beginning to count claims from the highly unusual early storm, which lasted less than 20 hours but will have long-term consequences for many in the region.

According to Loretta Worters, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophic losses, behind hurricanes and tornadoes.

Heavy snow loads can stress roofs and cause collapse. If the heat is off for too long, pipes can freeze and burst. And snow-covered tree branches can snap and hit a house or car — or, worse, hurt a household occupant or neighbor.

In the latest nor’easter, millions of homeowners were without electricity for days. (As I’m writing this, five days after the storm, more than a million people are still in the dark, according to CNN.)

Of course, losing electricity means no heat or hot water for many. And when the furnace is out, some homeowners resort to dangerous ways of keeping warm. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are a leading contributor to house fires and account for about a third of all home-heating fires and four-fifths of home-heating fire deaths.

During weather emergencies, homeowners clearly need information and support from their insurance companies, utility providers, and others. The social media have provided important mechanisms allowing customers to connect. During Hurricane Irene, millions took to their smartphones to tweet about weather and power conditions. People provided Facebook updates so far-away family members knew they were okay. Anxious customers accessed utility websites to report outages and unsafe conditions and to get information about service restoration. Policyholders uploaded photos to their insurers’ websites or mobile applications to document home and auto damage minutes after it occurred.

Events like those highlight the need for continued development of tools and information that insurers can provide to their customers. For example, you might want to offer helpful hints and safety tips to minimize loss — things like cleaning gutters to prevent ice damming, clearing leaf-covered roofs to prevent water retention, upgrading insulation, and trimming tree limbs.

Let’s hope for a mild winter. See you in the spring!