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Missouri State Regulators Tell Insurance Companies that Joplin Needs More Time to Rebuild

The tornado that ravaged Joplin late last May left thousands of home and business owners with the task of rebuilding. Some insurance companies set deadlines for those reconstruction projects—deadlines that many people in Joplin were not able to meet. Now, state regulators have stepped in. KSMU’s Samuel Crowe has this report.

The Missouri Department of Insurance says some insurance companies have placed unreasonable timelines on the backs of Joplin residents who are working hard to get their homes and businesses rebuilt.

On one hand, state regulators are praising insurance companies for the job they’ve done so far, which is to pay 1.1 billion dollars toward more than 17,500 homeowner, auto, and commercial property claims. But, state regulators say residents need more time to file their claims.

John Huff is the Director of the Missouri Department of Insurance. He says the department is threatening to take legal action against insurance companies that enforce deadlines of less than one year for filing insurance claims.

“We’re encouraging, strongly, that the industry give a full 12 months at this point in time, and if we find out and we encourage consumers to notify us if they’re having any issues with insurance companies, we’ll take whatever regulatory action we need to take against those insurance companies,” Huff said.

Huff says certain circumstances have prevented many claims from being filed so far. For example, many people couldn’t access their property for a while. Also, there was initially a shortage of building contractors, and some people faced delays in getting their building permits. Debris removal and downed utility lines also played roles in the delay.

Larry Case is the Executive Vice President of the Missouri Association of Insurance Agents. He says reading insurance policies isn’t America’s favorite pastime until it’s claims time, and this confusion may be at the root of some complaints made by Joplin residents.

“I don’t know many homeowners that are well versed on all the nuances of coverage and what the requirements are when there’s a claim. They don’t usually go into depth in their coverages when they’re buying. They don’t always ask all the questions. They’re just looking at money savings. There’s always issues like that that come up. There’s always some difficulties anytime there’s this many claims all at once,” Case said.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s Department of Insurance says it expects the amount in claims to reach $2 billion by the time all claims are settled. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.

Consumers or insurers with questions can contact the Department at 1-800-726-7390 or online at www.insurance.mo.gov.