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For Many Homeowners, Damage May Not Meet Higher Hurricane Deductible

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Hurricanes are not only more ferocious than tropical storms, but also can cost homeowners more in out-of-pocket expenses.

Connecticut is one of 18 states that allows insurers to write homeowners policies that have a higher deductible for hurricanes than for other storms. Each policy is different, but a deductible on other storms might be $500, $1,000 or as much as $2,500 while a hurricane deductible is a percentage of the home value, ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent. That means a $300,000 home on the coast might have a $15,000 deductible.

"Due to increased coastal development and greater hurricane risk, hurricane deductibles were created to help keep private sector property insurance coverage available and affordable by having the policyholder share more of the risk with their insurer," said Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

Higher deductibles apply from the time the National Hurricane Center issues a hurricane warning for anywhere in Connecticut to 24 hours after the warning is terminated, or 24 hours after the hurricane is downgraded for Connecticut, said Gerard O'Sullivan, manager of the consumer affairs unit within the Connecticut Insurance Department.

Irene, the first hurricane to crash into Connecticut since Hurricane Bob in August 1991, is the first since a state law took effect in 2007 allowing higher deductibles for hurricanes.

People who own homes, cars and businesses ravaged by wind, rain and broken tree limbs typically start to file claims as soon as the wind calms down. For many people, that's Monday.

Insurers and insurance regulators urge property owners to file a claim as soon as possible. The Connecticut Insurance Department recommends, after the disaster, that homeowners make temporary repairs or arrange for a professional to do so as soon as it's safe to make them.

 Take photos of the damage. Don't throw anything out until after an insurance adjuster has time to review a claim, and insurers will pay to store property until a home is repaired. Keep a record of all expenses and receipts, not just for repairs but other expenses often partially covered by homeowners and renters policies -- meals, rent or hotel fees, utility installation and transportation.

"A lot of people just don't think to bring their policy or their policy number with them," said Worters, the insurance institute spokeswoman. "A lot of the companies are putting phone apps out there for their customers. So people can take a home inventory right then and there, and store it on their cellphone and then send it to the insurance company."

The Travelers Cos. and The Hartford Financial Services Group, for example, are among property-casualty insurers that offer tips on their websites explaining how to file a claim.

You can file a claim by calling your insurer, or visiting a mobile claims center -- often a large vehicle the insurer sends to a disaster site. If you can't find your insurance agent or your insurer's claim number, call the Connecticut Insurance Department at 800-203-3447.

Sometimes claims are paid in installments, including a possible emergency advance for living expenses, according to the insurance department.

When a claim is processed, if you think you aren't getting the full amount owed, ask the insurer to explain which language in the policy applies to your claim. Keep a diary of the people you talk to, and of what was said and when. Contact the consumer affairs unit at the Connecticut Insurance Department if you believe your insurer is not paying the full amount as indicated in your policy.

Connecticut, as home to the Insurance Capital, often sends claims adjusters to other states to assess damage from disasters, but this time adjusters don't have to travel far to respond to calls from customers. The Connecticut Insurance Department last week processed requests from out-of-state claims adjusters to work here after Irene hits.

"It's been a long time since we've had a hurricane," O'Sullivan said Friday. "Our adjusters, adjusters that work in Connecticut, go all over the country assisting in catastrophes that they have there. So it will be the opposite this time of people coming into this area, all of the Eastern Seaboard, to assist."

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Matthew Sturdevant is the insurance reporter at The Hartford Courant. He grew up in East Aurora, N.Y., a small village near Buffalo. He started his journalism career in 1999 ... read more

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