Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon announced March 2 that he has issued Bulletin 2021-03 reminding insurers of their obligations to policyholders as they work with consumers affected by the devastating 2020 hurricane season and impacted by the extreme winter weather that occurred in February.
In the bulletin, Donelon told insurers they must provide copies of policies when policyholders ask for them and they must continue to engage with their customers even if those policyholders hire a public adjuster. He further reminded insurers that it was in their own interest to do so to avoid litigation.
Bulletin 2021-03, Donelon’s third communication to insurers about good faith dealing with policyholders harmed by hurricanes Laura, Delta or Zeta, also counsels policyholders to do their best to provide the proof of loss documentation that insurers need to process their claims.
“We’ve heard from policyholders in the Lake Charles area that many people are still having trouble engaging contractors, crews and materials to make repairs on homes, businesses and places of worship damaged by hurricanes Laura and Delta,” Donelon said. “I am committed to making insurers understand the extraordinary nature of the 2020 hurricane season and that working with policyholders is the only way forward for a strong recovery in the state of Louisiana.”
After a catastrophe, policyholders have an initial 180 days to file documentation (proof of loss) of their claim with their insurer. Policyholders might have a few extra days to submit such documentation, including photos, estimates and receipts to their insurance companies if they were under a declaration of emergency and civil authorities were denying the insured access to the property after the event. There are other circumstances that may also extend that 180-day deadline, according to the department news release.
The initial 180-day mark after Hurricane Laura was Feb. 23, just as policyholders were emerging from a deep freeze with extended power outages, making it difficult for many to focus on their insurance claim. The 180-day file date for proof of loss forms for Hurricane Delta is April 7, 2021, and Hurricane Zeta is April 26, 2021.
In addition to complaints about claim delays and looming deadlines, the department received complaints against insurers not providing full copies of policies as required in the Policyholder Bill of Rights (R.S. 22:41). All policyholders are entitled to receive copies of their policies from their insurer in a timely manner. Any policyholders who are not receiving copies of their policies after requesting them should file a complaint with the department, he advised.
In the bulletin, Donelon reminded insurers and agents that public adjusters are not authorized to act as legal representatives for policyholders under Louisiana law and that the involvement of a public adjuster does not affect an insurer’s or agent’s obligation to communicate with policyholders. Donelon encouraged consumers to file complaints with the Department of Insurance if they are experiencing difficulty contacting their insurer or agent and were told it is because they have hired a public adjuster.
Even as Commissioner Donelon urged insurance companies to work with policyholders, he encouraged consumers to be aware of the deadlines and strive to meet them. Bulletin 2021-03 is ultimately a reminder that companies should act in good faith and fair dealing with their policyholders and are encouraged to grant leniency even as certain legal deadlines still stand. Policyholders who need to file a proof of loss should review their policy and contact their agent or insurer for guidance on the exact deadline per their policy.
Some consumers have told the department that they have not been able to gather complete documentation of their losses because they are still trying to engage contractors or are still incurring additional living expenses while displaced from their homes. In those situations, the Department of Insurance advises policyholders to do the best they can, advise their insurers of their efforts, keep them posted about the situation and follow up with additional documentation when it becomes available.
Agents and insurers also can advise what documentation will fulfill a policyholder’s proof of loss obligation. A sufficient proof of loss could include the initial damage claim, as well as photos, contractor estimates, receipts for temporary repairs and any other documentation reasonably required by the company.