Peggy Honoré paid her insurance premiums on-time, every month for more than a decade, but in the months after Hurricane Ida tore the roof off her Destrehan home, she’s struggled to get her insurer to call her back, answer her questions or respond to her claims.
Twelve weeks out from the storm, Honoré has been shuffled between five different insurance adjusters, and each time she’s given a new point of contact, it’s as if the claims process starts anew.
“I feel like it’s a stall tactic to keep them from acting upon your claim,” Honoré said. “It just prolongs making a decision about anything.”
Oftentimes, policyholders will interact with at least two adjusters after submitting a claim. The first investigates damages on-the-ground, taking photos and measurements, and submitting a report with cost estimates. Then, a desk adjuster, working remotely, evaluates the field report and makes a decision about whether to cut a check.
But for Honoré, and countless other policyholders across southeast Louisiana, the claims review process hasn’t been so simple. She’s gone weeks at a time hearing nothing from her adjuster, despite repeatedly reaching out. And more than once, her insurer, Maison Insurance, has assigned her a new adjuster without notice.
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Lawmakers across south Louisiana are beginning to hear from constituents stressed and angry at insurers’ adjuster swapping tactics, and some, like state Rep. Tanner Magee, a Houma Republican, are experiencing the headache firsthand.
“I finally got some traction and then they switched adjusters on me,” said Magee, the second-ranking lawmaker in the Louisiana House. He said his latest adjuster hung up on him after demanding he resubmit a claim that he had already filed. “It’s a bunch B.S.”
When a storm as big as Ida hits, insurers have to ship-in adjusters from elsewhere to address the flood of claims. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said his office has licensed and registered more than 10,000 out-of-state adjusters in the last two years.
But at a recent legislative hearing, Donelon said many of those adjusters were simply “warm bodies,” with little experience, that insurers brought in to meet the state’s extended 60-day deadline on responding to claims.
“They brought an army in here of warm bodies, in many cases to comply with the requirement, so they would not be subjected to lawsuits,” Donelon told lawmakers.
From the industry’s perspective, Donelon isn’t sure why there’s such a high turnover among adjusters. He said the Department of Insurance is investigating the issue on a small-scale, through an ongoing market conduct study of five undisclosed companies.
So far, the agency has received 2,388 complaints from policyholders dissatisfied with their insurers in Hurricane Ida’s aftermath. Twenty-eight percent of those submissions involved issues with adjusters and delays in receiving estimates, Donelon said.
But as the recovery in southeast Louisiana slogs on, issues with adjusters are expected to worsen. Just ask Kerry Andersen, whose Lake Charles home was devastated by Hurricane Laura 15 months ago. She’s had at least nine adjusters, though State Farm has handed her off to so many different people, she’s lost count of the exact number.
In a one-week period, Andersen was assigned three different adjusters. She didn’t get a chance to talk to two of them before they were swapped out.
“It just makes you wonder if they have any idea how they’ve blown our lives up,” Andersen said. “It’s not the hurricane that’s blown up our lives. It’s the insurance companies. They put you in a perpetual state of waiting, begging and pushing paperwork and you’re left praying that someone does the right thing.”
‘I feel like I have PTSD’
The constant swapping of adjusters has left policyholders like Honoré feeling trapped. With each new contact, she’s had to spend hours rehashing her claim, returning in her mind to Aug. 29, when Hurricane Ida’s racecar fast winds tore the roof off her St. Charles Parish home, soaking her walls, wedding pictures and furniture with rain.
“It’s painful having to recall all of this information all over again,” Honoré said, standing in her living room, stripped to its studs. “I feel like I have PTSD.”
Within 10 days of the storm, a field adjuster hired by Maison Insurance was on her property. And three weeks later a desk adjuster reached out. Honoré spoke to him twice before he went silent, and when she finally got through to customer service, she learned the reason why: she had been assigned a new adjuster.
But when Honoré called the number for her new adjuster, the name on the voicemail didn’t match what she was given. A week later, Maison called back to say she had been assigned yet another adjuster. He, too, went silent.
“It’s like, are they telling these people not to correspond with you?” Honoré said.
Fed up, Honoré in October emailed the CEO of Maison, and copied an attorney from the Department of Insurance she had met a recent town hall. Within hours she got a call from a supervisor apologizing for the delay and connecting her with a new adjuster, who asked her to resubmit a content claim she had filed weeks earlier. Things began looking up, and then the adjuster went silent.
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‘You start to think this is just by design’
When a new adjuster calls to introduce themselves, the script is often the same, Andersen said: “We had to send so and so adjuster home because he’s tired and needs to go back to his family, but don’t worry, I’ll be with you to the end.”
Then the line of communication is severed.
“It’s almost like it’s out of a playbook,” Andersen said. “At some point, you start to think this is just by design to push you down the road and wear you out.”
A contractor estimated it would take around $317,000 to fix up Andersen’s Lake Charles home, but so far she’s received just $90,000. She decided to hire a lawyer and is headed to mediation with State Farm. But after more than a year, she’s had enough of the back-and-forth. She put her house on the market and doesn’t plan to move back to southwest Louisiana.
Honoré said insurers should be better prepared to respond following major disasters like Ida. She suggested the Legislature limit the number of adjusters an insurer can swap a policyholder between. And argued the extended 60-day limit on responding to claims puts a burden on homeowners.
“These people are businesspeople. They know what kind of infrastructure and staff are needed for the operation to function,” Honoré said of insurers. “If they hire more people, that’s less profits for them.”
Maison Insurance couldn’t be reached for comment. The phone number for the corporate office listed online is now defunct. Earlier this month, an insurance industry watchdog pulled Maison’s accreditation citing its financial instability. Shortly after, the firm’s parent company, FedNat Holding Company, announced it would stop renewing Louisiana policies beginning January.
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Honoré counts herself among the luckier survivors of Hurricane Ida. She’s gotten an initial payment for damages to her home, and a contractor is scheduled to replace her roof as early as December. But she’s still waiting on nearly $60,000 to replace her damaged belongings and thousands more in supplemental claims.
After three weeks of radio silence, her latest adjuster reached back out last Thursday. The last time they spoke, the adjuster assured Honoré that the contents claim would be finalized within days. On the latest call, the adjuster said the claim is still pending.
“They just stall, stall, stall,” Honoré said. “This state of not knowing where you are is nerve-wracking.”
Are you facing issues with your insurance company in the aftermath of hurricanes Ida or Laura? Send your story to [email protected] and a reporter may reach out.