Tornadoes bring to light state changes on wind coverage

Article Courtesy of The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Published  February 11, 2007

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Saving a little money can prove costly.

When Stan and Toni Stone decided to opt out of hurricane coverage in their homeowner's insurance policy, they weren't thinking about tornadoes. Then last Friday's storm ripped through their Winefield Avenue home.

The couple filed a claim with their insurer, Allstate Floridian, expecting to be reimbursed for their loss, but were told they were responsible to rebuild their lives on their own. By not getting hurricane coverage, the Stones also eliminated protection from other wind damage from tornadoes or hailstorms.

"It was a lack of knowledge on our part and a lack of explaining on their part," Toni Stone said. "If someone had explained it, I would have never done what we did."

Stone said because they owned their home (without holding a mortgage), they wanted to save a little money. They believed they could afford to take the risk after having minimal damage after the 2004 hurricanes.

When the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the couple wasn't eligible for help because they had insurance, Toni Stone said she lost it. That is when a friendly face from the Florida Department of Financial Services came to the rescue.

With a little research, the representative unearthed a state law that prohibits insurers from writing homeowners policies without wind damage coverage if the property is outside an established wind zone. When that was brought to Allstate's attention, the company reversed its position.

"They have been wonderful," Stone said. "They came out that afternoon and brought us a check."

Ryan Priest, a spokesman for Allstate Floridian, said he could not speculate how the policy error occurred.

"There can be any number of scenarios, and it would be unfair to point a finger at any one party or another," he said in an e-mail reply to inquiries about the Stones' policy problem.

Even with the happy ending, this is still a cautionary tale, said Lauren Cain, bureau chief for the state financial services department in Tallahassee.

Come July, the law changes, allowing people to eliminate hurricane or wind coverage, no matter where they live.

Approved by the state Legislature during the recent special session, the change is designed to save money for homeowners.

"It is a front-end cost-cutting measure," Cain said. "But it might be an expense that might cost (homeowners) at the other end. It is important people understand that."

To receive the exclusion, policyholders must provide a hand-written statement citing their intent to opt out and get approval from their mortgage holder, Cain said.

Priest said his company supports the change. "However, it is extremely important that customers clearly understand the implications of doing that," he replied electronically.