Determining What to Pay for Katrina Claims

Greg Fox, an insurance adjuster with National Security Insurance Company, talks about working in Mississippi's Gulf Coast. He says it's tough work explaining what is and what is not covered to families who have lost everything.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Insurance companies are adding up initial estimates of losses caused by Hurricane Katrina. Those figures could be unprecedented. In communities throughout the Gulf Coast, adjusters have been meeting with families to make decisions about homes destroyed, property lost. Greg Fox and his team from National Security Insurance have been working around the clock in Mississippi's Gulf Coast for more than a week and he expects to be taking in claims, as he puts it, through Christmas. We caught up with him on his cell phone as he traveled near Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Mr. GREG FOX (National Security Insurance): We did make it down to Bay Saint Louis yesterday, which is total devastation. The people are just lost, don't know where to turn. It's just something--I mean, I've been in several storms but I've just never seen anything like that area down there.

MONTAGNE: So when you encountered one of these people who had really lost everything or part of a neighborhood that was gone, what do you do as an insurance adjuster?

Mr. FOX: Yes, but, you know, you just have to be, you know, compassionate. You just try to help them as much as you can. They lost everything that they have, and so trying to get an inventory from them is pretty hard to do in their situation, but we just try to go ahead and advance them the money that they need to, you know, to start rebuilding or relocating or whatever they need to do. We're equipped to go ahead and give them the paperwork that they need in case they need to turn that into FEMA in case they're underinsured, that sort of thing.

MONTAGNE: Can you relate to us a story of a single individual or a single family's claim?

Mr. FOX: I have met with a couple, you know, that's lost everything. They have small children. They haven't had power or water. They've also been looted. It's just a thing where you just try to comfort them and let them know that we are here to help. This one, in particular, lady needed medication for her children and so we kind of guided her and directed her to where she could get help.

MONTAGNE: Given the terribleness of this storm, have you found yourself having to make difficult choices?

Mr. FOX: You know, unfortunately, Renee, you do have to do that in this kind of work. We are adjusting these claims based on the policies, you know, that they have purchased, and it's hard to do sometimes when things are not covered and--but you just have to do the best you can and try to explain to them in a devastated situation like this that that's just the kind of policy that they have, you know. It's not a good situation at all.

MONTAGNE: Tell us, if you wouldn't mind, what's not covered that people think is covered.

Mr. FOX: What we're running into a lot is maybe like food spoilage, wind-driven rain on some of our policies are not covered.

MONTAGNE: Wind-driven rain is not covered?

Mr. FOX: In some policies, yes.

MONTAGNE: Would that just more or less be a hurricane?

Mr. FOX: Wind-driven rain now--let me go back and explain--as long as there's exterior damage to the home--and usually you have that when you have a hurricane--if you have wind-driven rain and it rips the roof off, then there's no problem there, but like when you have rain that comes in say around a vent or a window, there's no coverage for that.

MONTAGNE: Are you responding to claims being made or are you going out cold to areas where you know you have people who are insured and they obviously probably will need to make a claim?

Mr. FOX: Yeah, the claims are e-mailed to us at the hotel where we're staying. We print them off. We do try to make contact. We visit the agent to see if maybe they know the whereabouts of the insured and if we're in the neighborhood and we've got a couple of claims there, what we'll do is--you know, we'll just go by the house and leave a card.

MONTAGNE: You're mostly getting claims from people who at least have the wherewithal to make the claim.

Mr. FOX: Yes, or they've had a relative make a claim for them. We've had some of that where their house is completely gone or damaged beyond--you know, they're staying at maybe even in another city. But most of the people are not at home because they have no power, the trees are actually still on some of these homes and so it's just hard to get in touch with them.

MONTAGNE: Greg Fox is an adjuster supervisor with National Security Insurance Company. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.

Mr. FOX: Renee, I appreciate it.

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