Thousands of Tennesseans impacted by devastating March and April tornadoes have turned to insurance companies for relief.
And, after the novel coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses across the state, business owners are doing the same.
The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is working to help Tennesseans find the best way to file insurance claims in an unparalleled time of struggle.
The department asked insurance companies in March to provide "grace periods" for employers and individuals who need to delay premium payments during the crises in an effort to prevent loss of insurance coverage.
"This will be very helpful for that small business ... who needs to allocate that money toward something else: to pay for salaries, to pay to reopen," Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda said.
Commissioner: March tornado claims slowing down
Mainda said Thursday that while many areas of Middle Tennessee are still in the throes of recovery, the state is "close to the tail end of claims being filed."
As of April 17, Tennesseans impacted by the March 3 tornadoes had filed more than 15,000 claims, totaling just over $1.1 billion, Mainda said.
More than 7,400 claims had been processed and paid by April 17 to the tune of about $370 million.
On April 12, another tornado outbreak tore through southeastern Tennessee, leaving swaths of damage in Hamilton, Polk, Marion and Bradley counties.
By April 17, Tennesseans impacted by these storms had filed nearly 8,300 claims, including an estimated 6,100 personal property claims, 126 commercial claims and 1,300 auto claims.
"Obviously the way insurance companies have dealt with these tornadoes has been very unique in that we are going through a pandemic," Mainda said. "We have not received any specific complaints from consumers other than just figuring out what the best way to file a claim is."
The department is awaiting a presidential declaration regarding the tornadoes and will issue more guidance to consumers and insurance carriers once this comes through.
A presidential declaration would open opportunities for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief, including assistance to individuals who are uninsured or whose insurance does not fully cover the damage they sustained during the storms.
Mainda also stressed that tornado victims should be wary of scammers, and verify the license of any contractors they use at verify.tn.gov before signing a contract.
To speed recovery efforts, the department has also expedited its process for licensing contractors.
Those with an expired license who wish to reapply will be vetted and their application will be processed quickly, he said.
COVID-19 business interruption claims 'a topic of priority'
As businesses across the state were forced to shutter due to efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, business owners with business interruption policies began to file claims for lost profits.
But some have seen those claims quickly denied due to virus exclusions.
Mainda said it's typical for business interruption policies to require proof of physical damage to the business, and policies may have exclusions for viruses, bacterial illnesses and pandemics.
Educating Tennesseans on the intricacies of business interruption policies is a "topic of priority" for the department, which has issued Q&A guidance for consumers on its website, according to Mainda.
"We are asking consumers to know what's in your policy and work with your carrier," he said. "If you have any complaints or any concerns and you need us to intervene, we've talked to several business owners specifically to give them some guidance."
Complaints can be filed with Consumer Insurance Services.