Insurance Adjusters' Business in St. Louis Is Booming With Hail Damage

By Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 06--HAZELWOOD -- Rob and Jenny Morris will repair their burly pickup. The decision wasn't so clear for Bob and June Terry and their two older sedans.

The Morrises of St. Charles and the Terrys of Charlack were among the first to bring badly dimpled vehicles to a State Farm Insurance temporary claim center. After widespread havoc such as the April 28 deluge of hail, insurance companies often set up special shops for policyholders to bring their troubles.

State Farm estimators examined the cracked windshield and deep dents on a 2005 Ram pickup and proposed paying in full for the repairs. That pleased the Morrises. But estimators declared the Terrys' 2001 Impala and 2003 Nissan sedan "totaled," meaning the cost of repairs would exceed the market values of the vehicles.

The Terrys had to decide whether give up their cars or take smaller settlements to repair them. And Bob Terry, coach of a youth baseball team, had a game that afternoon.

"We need the car now," he said, thinking of first pitch. "We'll figure things out later."

So it went Thursday as vehicles rolled into the shop at Interstate 270 and North Lindbergh Boulevard. State Farm has four others on both sides of the Mississippi River. American Family Insurance Co. has established six of them in the metro area.

Policyholders make appointments. Jim Camoriano, State Farm spokesman, estimated its shops will examine at least 700 vehicles daily beginning Monday and stay open for two weeks, maybe more.

Both companies' shops are in the April 28 hail belt, which ran from Lincoln County, Mo., into Washington County, Ill.State Farm already has more than 23,600 vehicle claims in the two states, most of them in the St. Louis area. American Family reported 5,800 bang-up vehicles in the metro.

Combined, the two companies insure about one third of the area's cars and trucks.

The National Weather Service had numerous reports of 1 3/4-inch hail, sometimes larger, as strong thunderstorms swept across the region Saturday. One storm blew apart a large tent at Kilroy's Sports Bar south of Busch Stadium, fatally injuring one man and hurting 100 others.

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Scott Blind, owner of a company that specializes in repairing hail damage, said smaller insurance companies work through body shops or hire independent adjusters. He said his KhS Global of Sunset Hills already has 5,000 customers lined up and expects more as claims roll in.

"We'll be busy for six months," said Blind.

Blind's company smooths out hail dimples manually, pushing on them from the inside with special tools.

Brice Huddleston, catastrophe team manager at State Farm'sHazelwood claims shop, said that the "paintless dent repair" system works well for smaller hail dimples.

Bigger jobs, Huddleston said, can require replacing hoods and roofs. That's how repair costs climb quickly.

The big insurance companies have traveling adjusters who descend on storm locations to handle claims. Huddleston, of St. Louis, counts Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005 among his campaigns.

At the shops, every customer has a lively story about hail. Jenny Morris said she and her husband were in a tavern at Westport with friends "when the whole sky fell in. We were lucky. A friend's car only two (parking) spots away had the windows smashed."

Bob Terry said his family retreated to the basement "when it sounded like horses running across our roof. I watched baseball hail banging off the cars. It's a bad feeling."

Insurance adjusters also are busy with roofs, chimneys, windows and siding on homes and other buildings. State Farm reported 9,900 property claims, and American Family already has 5,100, spokesmen said.

Large hail can do that. Severe thunderstorms that bombarded the area on April 10, 2001, caused about $700 million in damage. That was Missouri's costliest storm until the tornado that ripped apart Joplin on May 22, 2011, killing 161 people. Claims there already have reached $1.4 billion, according to the Missouri Department of Insurance.


(c)2012 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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