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Insurers emerge from storm with limited commercial claims

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Insurers emerge from storm with limited commercial claims

Insured damages from Winter Storm Jonas, which attacked the Eastern Seaboard in January with record snowfalls and blizzard conditions, may be mitigated by its weekend timing and the above-freezing temperatures in the wake of the storm.

While Jonas was historic for snowfall totals in many places, “the fact that it happened on a weekend lessened the impact to businesses and the subsequent impact from an insurance perspective,” said Rick Miller, national property practice leader for Aon Risk Solutions in Boston.

“The higher temperatures and quick melt is definitely going to help as well,” added Mr. Miller, noting above-freezing temperatures across the Northeast in the days immediately following the storm.

“I think at the end of the day, Jonas will prove to be a relatively minor insurance event from an overall industry perspective,” said Mr. Miller. “From a large commercial standpoint, I am not aware of many significant losses.”

Bud Trice, vice president of catastrophe services for Crawford & Co. in Atlanta, said claims appeared to be evenly split between commercial and residential lines.

“A quick glance would suggest we're running about 50/50 commercial to residential losses,” Mr. Trice said in an email.

“Only a handful of these appear to be in the very large category and are being handled by our global technical services group. They believe they'll see more in the coming days,” he added.

Mr. Trice said about 20 of the claims manager's catastrophe adjusters are in Maryland, Maine, New Jersey and New York cleaning up from prior storms and will be on hand to handle any additional surge in claims there.

Though it is still early in the process, the majority of claims seen thus far have been mainly roof collapses in states such as Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland, according to Scott Richardson, senior vice president and property practice leader for VeriClaim Inc. in Chicago.

There haven't been a significant number of claims thus far, said Mr. Richardson — only a couple of hundred, with a 70%/30% split between commercial and residential claims.

Business interruption, said Mr. Miller, is a more complex claims equation because lost sales must be proven, whereas retailers that lost sales one day could very well recoup such sales in the following days.

Companies hardest hit by lost business will be those which don't recoup sales, such as restaurants and entertainment, said Mr. Miller.

“Some consumer segments, primarily restaurants, will be the big losers, as the lost sales won't be made up,” New York-based Moody's Analytics Inc. said in a research note after the storm.

Business interruption claims may take time to sort out.

“What's really going to be interesting will be finding out how much of the business inter-

ruption is covered on the commercial side,” said Steve Bowen, associate director and meteorologist with Aon Benfield Group Ltd. in Chicago.

“Transportation will be another loser. Transit systems were completely or partially shut down in D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, and these lost sales won't be recouped,” said the Moody's Analytics report, which placed the storm's total economic losses at between $2.5 billion and $3 billion.

“This estimate is for the lost output that won't be recouped through overtime, working from home, and deferred spending,” said the Moody's report, as distinguished from insured losses.

Aon Benfield, in a report, said “Given the substantial damage and business interruption, it remains too early to provide a specific economic or insured loss estimate.”

The firm, did, however, say that “It is anticipated that this will be the first billion-dollar weather event for 2016.”

In its report, Aon Benfield noted that Jonas was similar in size and scope to the Jan. 5-10, 1996, event that hit the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest and caused estimated economic losses of $4.6 billion and insured losses of $920 million.

Mr. Bowen said it is still premature to have a high level of confidence in saying that the final insured loss would match the 1996 event.

“What I can say is that we're very comfortable in assuming that insured losses will run into hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Mr. Bowen.

He added that it will take some time, given the large footprint of storm damage, to produce accurate loss figures.

“It will be at least a few weeks until we can start to feel a little bit more comfortable in coalescing around a specific number,” said Mr. Bowen.