2011 “Groundhog Day” blizzard causes over $23 million in insurance claims

FOR RELEASE: February 28, 2011

The “Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011” that brought white-out conditions to Northwest Ohio and high winds, ice and snow accumulations to the southern and central portions of the state caused at least $23 million in insured losses, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute (OII). Estimates reported show that over 9,000 claims have been filed to-date across the state. Losses are expected to rise over the next few months as additional property damage is detected.

About this storm
This major winter storm packed a punch from New Mexico to Maine, with snowfall of over 20 inches reported in many regions of the country. At one point, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center reported that the storm stretched over 2,000 miles. 22 states including Ohio had snowfall accumulations greater than five inches.

The Ohio EMA reported four weather-related fatalities. Power outages statewide peaked at over 273,000 during the overnight hours on February 1. Total snow level county emergencies peaked at 14 at Level 1, 16 at Level 2 and five counties at Level 3.

According to Property Claim Services the early February storm reached catastrophe levels affecting ten states: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

Survey results
27 property/casualty insurance companies participated in the OII February winter storm survey. They represent 67 percent of Ohio’s personal auto market, about 78 percent of the homeowners’ insurance market and nearly 30 percent of Ohio’s commercial lines market based on 2009 Ohio premium volume. Insurance company estimates ranged from no losses to 2,350 claims. Losses reported by companies varied from none to nearly $7 million.

“It’s important to note that not all insurance companies are represented by this survey. Also, some insurers weren’t able to provide Ohio-specific data. Actual losses will be higher than our initial findings,” said OII President Daniel J. Kelso.

OII preliminary February winter storm loss estimates (based on information from 27 P/C insurers):
• Claim estimates: 9,076
• Homeowners:  8,167         • Auto: 490               • Business: 379
• Loss estimates: $23.1 million
• Homeowners: $20 million  • Auto: $1.2 million    • Business: $1.6 million

About 90 percent of the claims filed to-date pertain to homeowners or renters insurance. The storms caused power outages, frozen pipes, back-up of sewers and drains, fallen trees/limbs, and roof, gutter and interior water damage from ice, ice dams, wind, water and heavy snow accumulation.

About 5 percent of the claims pertain to auto insurance, some due to damage caused by fallen branches and debris from ice and snow accumulation. The increase in auto claims frequency may not have reached catastrophic levels for all insurers, therefore some were unable to pinpoint Ohio claims related to auto caused by Ohio February storms. Commercial losses, based on 379 claims, currently stand at about $1.6 million.

Common winter weather losses and coverage
Most property damage related to winter storms is covered by insurance, with the exception of flooding. Deductibles apply to auto, homeowners and commercial claims. OII recommends obtaining repair estimates prior to filing a claim if you suspect the damage is close to your deductible.

Common covered perils include:
• Fallen trees and limbs: Typically, costs associated with removal of a fallen tree (or trees) are covered up to $1,000 ($500/tree) under the following circumstances:
– The tree was uprooted due to windstorm, hail, or the peril of weight of ice, snow or sleet or a neighbor’s tree was downed under the same circumstances and
– The tree damaged a covered structure such as your roof, garage or shed. Coverage would also apply if a fallen tree blocks the insured’s driveway or handicap access entrance.
• Power failure: Damage from burst pipes from a power failure is covered by most homeowners insurance policies. While homeowners policies differ, food spoilage is normally excluded if the cause of loss is an off-premises power outage. Limited coverage may be added by endorsement (coverage usually up to $500).
• Vehicle coverage: Vehicles damaged by fallen ice, tree limbs or flooding are normally covered under the “other-than-collision” (also known as “comprehensive”) portion of an auto insurance policy. This is optional coverage that protects insured vehicles in situations other than a collision or overturn.
• Basement water backup: Coverage for water backup in basements (drains/sewers) is excluded from flood insurance and most homeowners insurance policies. However, this coverage is available by endorsement on many homeowners insurance policies. Check with your insurance provider as details and coverage varies by company. Cost averages about $50/year.
• Damage from ice dams and/or frozen pipes: Roof and gutters are typically affected by ice and snow accumulations. Damage to interior walls and floors are also covered by either peril.

Damage from flooding is excluded from every homeowners/renters and business insurance policy. Flood insurance coverage normally can be purchased through a separate policy for homes and businesses. Coverage is separate for the building (structure) and its contents. Licensed property/casualty insurance agents can sell flood insurance. Learn about NFIP’s agent referral program at www.floodsmart.gov or call 888-CALL-FLOOD for coverage assistance.

Ohio winter storm history
Click here for Ohio winter storm information. This includes previous storm loss surveys conducted by OII.

Repair tips
OII urges Ohioans to consider hiring licensed Ohio contractors to repair damages.

“Ultimately, homeowners are responsible for the roofer or home contractor of their choice. We caution them to check for proper licensing, references and referrals to help prevent problems down the road,” said Kelso.

Expenses incurred when taking measures to protect against further damage (such as placing plastic over a damaged roof, covering windows to prevent further water damage, etc.) are usually reimbursable under homeowners insurance. OII advises saving these receipts for claims filing.

To protect against the possibility of contractor fraud, OII provides a home repair tipsheet.

OII is a trade association representing insurance companies and agent groups for Ohio’s property/casualty industry. Its main objective is to increase understanding of insurance and related safety issues.