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Insurers see fewer claims from storm than expected

Power crews worked to restore electricity on Robinwood Avenue in Buzzards Bay for residents and businesses.

STEVE HAINES FOR THE GLOBE

Power crews worked to restore electricity on Robinwood Avenue in Buzzards Bay for residents and businesses.

Last week’s snowstorm may be one for the record books in terms of snowfall, but probably not in storm damage, insurers said.

Insurance companies, which were bracing for a flood of damage claims this week, said so far they have seen only a trickle compared with what followed Hurricane Sandy in October, Hurricane Irene in the summer of 2011, and the unusually early snowstorm in October 2011.

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Bunker Hill Insurance Co. in Boston, for instance, said it had received only about 42 damage claims by Monday, compared with 250 on the first business day after the Halloween snowstorm of 2011. Almost all the claims have come from Southeastern Massachusetts where fierce winds downed many trees during the peak of the storm — causing damage to roofs, cars, and other property. But damage was generally light in other parts of the state.

“Everybody’s back is aching [from shoveling] but most people dodged a blow,” said Curt Troutman, vice president of Bunker Hill, which has about 40,000 home insurance customers.

That isn’t to minimize the impact. At the peak of the storm, more than 400,000 people lost power, and thousands of customers are still without heat and electricity. Thousands of flights were canceled. Schools and businesses across the state closed for days.

But insurers said the flurry of storm warnings, business closures, and the driving ban kept many cars off the roads during the storm — significantly reducing the number of accidents that might otherwise have occurred.

“Our claim volume is up, but not as high as we have seen in some other storms,” said Tracy Hurley, vice president of claims for Arbella Insurance, based in Quincy. “We were so prepared, I don’t think we’ll see a lot of auto accidents, so that will help.”

Some homes were hit by falling trees or limbs, but insurers haven’t received as many claims as they feared. Despite the high wind gusts, sustained winds were lower than in some other storms.

In addition, most of the snow that fell was light and fluffy — which increased the volume of the snowfall, but not the weight of snow on roofs, said Tim Doggett, a senior research meteorologist at AIR Worldwide, a Boston company that develops computer models for insurers to estimate the risk from storms and other events.

Doggett, however, warned that could change if more snow and freezing rain falls in coming weeks, steadily increasing the weight on roofs — potentially causing some to collapse.

“If we keep getting more snowstorms,” Doggett said, “we could finally hit the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Insurance executives say most homeowner’s policies cover damage from snow or wind that knocks trees and limbs into homes or cars. They will also typically cover a portion of the cost to remove the trees, to repair damage from frozen pipes, or to pay for temporary living expenses if a home is uninhabitable due to storm damage.

But policies usually contain many deductibles and exceptions. For instance, most policies do not cover damage from flooding — even that caused by melting snow. And the details of coverage can vary widely, so customers may need to read their policies carefully or call their agents. For instance, policies may or may not cover expenses if you have to move into a hotel because you lose power and heat.

“You can never say with 100 percent certainty what is going to be covered and what is not going to be covered,” said John Egan, editor in chief of InsuranceQuotes.com, a consumer website that helps people shop for insurance.

Consumer advocates also recommend that customers take care to document all damage with photos and videos right away and avoid making permanent repairs until an adjuster can inspect the damage. Customers also need to make sure they comply with filing deadlines and other procedures to file claims.

“Call your insurance company or agent — that’s number 1,” said Barbara Anthony, the state’s consumer affairs chief.

In some cases, it might not be worth filing a claim at all if customers have only minor damage and a high deductible, consumers advocates said.

State regulators urged customers to work with their agents and insurance companies to settle claims. But if they run into problems, they can also call the Massachusetts Division of Insurance for help at 617-521-7777.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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