Isurance companies inundated with claims |

Isurance companies inundated with claims

It is hard to know how this storm will stack up in history annals, but for insurance companies it is a doozy with damages that are likely to reach into the millions in South Lake Tahoe.

“State Farm has already designated this storm as catastrophic in their claim reporting,” said Shelly Higgins, office manager and licensed agent in South Lake Tahoe.

There has to be a minimum of 100 claims for State Farm to reach this designation. And they were well beyond that number early Tuesday. Farmers Insurance has also designated the wind and snow storms that started last week as catastrophic.

Neither could put an exact dollar amount on damage because the claims are just starting to roll in. Both companies cover the lake area, into the Carson Valley and up to Reno.

“It could be close to a million (dollars) in just the South Lake area — not including the other areas — with all the little things there are to do,” Higgins said.

And that’s just one insurance company.

“I would say (Monday) was the highest number of calls for claims being phoned in in my eight years up here with Farmers,” said John Hetherton, owner of the Farmers office in South Lake Tahoe.

The majority of calls Hetherton was receiving came from people in Reno, Gardnerville and Carson City reporting damage from high winds. One client in the Minden area had a fence blown over, windows busted, garage door damaged and the roof wrecked.

It isn’t unusual to have multiple problems to report, and claims representatives know the calls have just begun.

Once people start clearing the snow off roofs, more damage could be revealed. And when the snow starts to melt the leaky roofs will be the problem.

“Surprisingly, we have had a small number of auto claims right now,” Hetherton said Tuesday. “Maybe because people are not dealing with that right now. One thing when the snow is this deep and roads have not been gotten to by the plow, people cannot drive too fast and can’t slide too much.”

Every call Higgins got earlier in the week had to do with trees. She expects that once power is restored to everyone, there will be claims for losses to refrigerator and freezer contents having spoiled, as well as appliances that could get zapped from power surges.

Most homeowners’ policies cover trees falling onto a dwelling. But renters need their own insurance to cover any contents that are damaged.

And when it comes to motorized vehicles, including trailers, homeowners insurance is not the answer — even when they are damaged in the garage. Separate, comprehensive vehicle insurance is the precautionary measure to protect moving objects like four-wheel drives, snowmobiles and boats.

Higgins said she didn’t know of any carrier who would insure a snowblower against a run-in with a newspaper in the driveway. This is because people know it’s going to be thrown there and are expected to be responsible for clearing the route of obstacles before firing up the snowblower.

One thing Higgins stresses is to not have the insurance company be the first call. Fixing a hole in the roof from a fallen tree limb should be the priority so there is no water damage or personal injury. Whether a person has coverage is irrelevant because the hole has to be boarded up no matter what. If there is coverage, companies will reimburse people.

Not all insurance companies have been deluged with claim calls. Insurance broker John Gleason at Progressive said he had not had a large number of calls, but added that people may be waiting to dig out before assessing problems.

At the Allstate office in South Lake Tahoe, customers are greeted by a pleading representative saying he doesn’t have power, he can’t do much, but he is available at home or by cell phone.

— Kathryn Reed may be reached at (530) 541-3880, ext. 251 or via e-mail at

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