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Despite an active 1998 hurricane season, few homeowners in New York understand how their policies work when such disasters strike, according to the Independent Insurance Agents Assn. of New York Inc.

According to a telephone survey commissioned by the IIAANY in late August, 73% of the 500 Long Island homeowners in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens counties responding to the survey neither had heard of the term "windstorm deductible," nor knew it to be an integral part of their coverage. Furthermore, the survey found that of those homeowners that recognized the term, 59% were unable to say how windstorm deductibles apply to their insurance protection, what triggers deductible applications and what they mean to their reimbursement for loss to their homes and other property.

As a result of increased sensitivity to hurricanes and storms, many insurers in recent years have applied windstorm deductibles to homeowner policies, the IIAANY noted.

Despite this move by insurers, 48% of the surveyed homeowners are not sure if their insurance policies have a windstorm deductible. Of those unsure, 45% live within a half mile from the shore line.

"The survey found widespread consumer ignorance of this new policy provision," John Haskell, president of IIAANY, said in a release. "Independent agents have worked hard to explain to their clients this recent application of the windstorm deductibles, but yet still many have not gotten the message," he said.

Responding to calls from independent agents regarding the issue, Mr. Haskell praised the New York State Insurance Department, which issued regulation calling for insurers to denote windstorm deductibles clearly as both a dollar and percentage amount on the face of the policy.

The IIAANY is working with the department to address the issue of standardizing the trigger that causes windstorm deductibles to apply.

"Right now, each company makes its own rules as to when wind force and storm location trigger the application of the deductible," Mr. Haskell said. "The variations can bewilder homeowners."