By Linda Stern
WASHINGTON Nov 3Pat Groover called her
insurance company on Tuesday morning, the day after a massive
tree gave in to storm Sandy's winds, ripped the front off a
neighbor's house and pulled siding and gutters off of Groover's
home. The path of destruction didn't stop - the tree came to
rest on Groover's car in her Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey,
The tree is still there. Groover is afraid to have it
removed until she hears from her insurer, and that hasn't
"They told me they'd call me in three days. I've heard
nothing yet and I'm sick of it," said Groover, standing on her
front porch, beside her tarp-and-tree covered car. "I called
again today and waited on hold for so long I just gave up. You
can't do anything until you hear from the adjuster."
That could take a while. Insurers up and down the east coast
have already logged tens of thousands of claims. The Consumer
Federation of America has estimated that there will be hundreds
of thousands of claims filed before all of the basements are
pumped and the roofs are replaced.
Even though thousands of extra adjusters have been out
fielding those claims in the most distressed states since the
storm hit, it's going to take a long time before every homeowner
and renter sees an insurance adjuster up close and in person.
"We are working as quickly as possible," said a spokesman
for The Hartford, Groover's insurer. "Our catastrophic claims
team is on the ground, working around the clock, but we are
still waiting for clearance from local authorities to access
some areas. This was a devastating and highly unusual storm."
Mary Henley, 41, can't even reach her insurance company. The
line is continually busy. Her house on the Breezy Point beach
front in Queens, New York is now actually part of the beach,
with sand on the porch and the whole first floor flooded. More
than 100 homes in the community burned to the ground and the
rest of the area suffered extensive flood damage.
Henley has logged a call to the Federal Emergency Management
Administration, but has yet to hear back. She and her mother are
staying with relatives, but keep coming by the house to try to
How long should Sandy victims expect to wait? "It could be a
week, two weeks or three weeks before somebody from the
insurance company gets there," warned Charles Richard "Dick"
Tutwiler, a public insurance adjuster from Tampa, Florida, who
has been representing consumers in storm-related claims for
several decades. For separate stories on how to get insurers'
attention see and
LOGISTICS AND TRIAGE
Some customers may be forced to wait because insurance
companies are slammed. In some cases, they can't get into the
most affected neighborhoods. In others, they are simply doing
triage, and sending their adjusters to the most dramatically
"We prioritize by severity of damage to properties on a
case-by-case basis," said Nicole Alley, a spokesperson for USAA.
She said her company had roughly 500 adjusters working on claims
that had reached 25,000 by mid-day on Thursday. By late
afternoon on Friday, that number had risen to 31,000, with 2,000
claims filed in two hours.
A State Farm spokesperson said her firm had logged more than
50,000 claims by mid-afternoon on Thursday.
USAA landed its mobile catastrophe van in a Breezy Point
parking lot on Friday - right next to a trailer from MetLife and
a van from Liberty Mutual.
Their top priority: homes that are uninhabitable, so that
the owners can get emergency funds deposited to their bank
accounts the same day (or the day after) for food and shelter.
Matthew Stewart, a total loss expert for USAA, which
primarily serves members of the military, predicted that the
insurer will be in the area with claims adjusters through
November, and possibly into December.
Some consumers, worried that they won't get timely or fair
help from their insurance company, are hiring their own
adjusters like Tutwiler. Called "public adjusters", they
represent consumers in insurance claims.
One such adjuster, Daniel Wixted, from Sewell, New Jersey,
said he received over 200 calls in the first two days after
Sandy crossed into New Jersey on Monday.
Public adjusters assess damage, make estimates on repairs
and negotiate claims with insurers on behalf of consumers.
Wixted says his clients either don't want to be bothered with
all of the work involved in a prolonged claim, or believe that
they will get a better settlement if they work with their own
adjuster. He charges five percent of the final settlement.
YOU HAVE TO PAY WHILE YOU WAIT
Manhattanite Timothy Braude faced mandatory evacuation from
his East River-bordering apartment on Monday, and called his
insurer, State Farm, to find out whether the "loss of use
coverage" in his policy would kick in and pay for a hotel room.
He's still waiting for the answer, and has been couch
surfing with friends instead of checking into a hotel. "I am not
going to book a room if I don't know for sure that it will be
covered," he said. He has complained to his insurer by email
along with messages on Twitter about State Farm.
"We take customers concerns seriously, but also hope they
understand the devastation many families are facing and our need
to get people back on their feet quickly when they've lost
everything," said State Farm spokesperson Holly Anderson.
Even so, while State Farm and other insurers consider the
cost of hotels on a case-by-case basis, they don't reimburse
money that hasn't been spent.
PATIENCE WILL BE A VIRTUE
Getting an adjuster out to your house is the first step of what
can be a long journey. Tutwiler said he has claims from
Hurricane Wilma (remember that? It happened in 2005) that are
working their way through the courts.
Even without legal challenges, it can easily take three
months or more before a claim gets paid. With visiting adjusters
coming in and out of town at holiday time, consumers may not
have the kind of continuity they would expect with their claim.
"Sometimes they just send somebody out to take a picture and
then it gets reassigned," Tutwiler said. Multiple adjusters can
complicate a claim, but don't mean it won't eventually get
settled in a satisfactory way."Accept that it's not going to get