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Homeowners With Multiple Hail Claims, Lose Insurance

By Tom Lutey, Billings Gazette, Mont.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 15--After the May 18 hailstorm pummeled her Billings Heights property, Carol Metzler got word her insurance company was dumping her.

State Farm, which has insured Metzler's property for 30 years, was declining to issue her a new policy. Too many claims, her agent said. Metzler was ticked off. Her neighborhood had been hit hard by extreme weather several times in recent years.

There was the Father's Day tornado that ripped the roof off the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in 2010, followed by a severe Heights hailstorm in 2012 and another in 2013. The May 18 storm pounded portions of Billings with golf-ball-sized hail, destroying roofs, windows and vehicles.

Metzler, 74, doesn't know how she could have avoided the damage for which she filed claims.

"It was ridiculous," Metzler said. "What do I do? Put a faucet on Mother Nature? Gee whiz."

As the homeowners met with representatives from the office of the State Insurance Commissioner to discuss claims disputes, some were crying foul because they had been informed their policies would not be renewed upon expiration.

Some had assumed a policy couldn't be canceled because of an act of God.

Not so, said Adam Schafer, Montana's deputy commissioner of insurance and securities. Insurance companies have the right not to renew a policy over issues like claims. Non-renewal presents real problems for homeowners because once a customer had been turned away after multiple claims, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to be picked up by another claim-weary company.

Non-renewals aren't issued lightly, said Brad Hilliard, a State Farm spokesman. But a company has to look at what it can reasonably cover. Several issues are considered, such as how long a customer has been with the company and what kind of insurance they have, as well as how many claims a customer has filed.

Hail claims in Billings have been numerous in recent years. State officials say they've heard of as many as 40,000 claims for auto damage related to the May 18 storm that tore through Musselshell, Yellowstone and Big Horn counties. Claims by homeowners in Billings probably number about 7,000 to 8,000 per agency, based on what insurers are saying, Schafer said.

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"There's been some storms come through the area," Hilliard said. "You have had some adverse exposure. We look at past claims experience to determine future risk. This is not intended as a way to recoup past losses. It's rather a reflection of the increased risk."

State Farm has a significant number of Montana policies, about a 20 percent market share.

It isn't right that hail damage should cost Yellowstone County residents their insurance coverage, said Jim Reno, a Yellowstone County commissioner. Reno said he's heard from several people whose policies aren't being renewed due to hail.

It should be an all-or-none coverage for Montana, Reno said. If a homeowner in Kalispell is insured for hail, a homeowner in Billing shouldn't lose coverage because of hail, he said.

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(c)2014 Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)

Visit the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.) at www.billingsgazette.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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