House  on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria
House on lower Morne Bruce damaged by Hurricane Maria

By any measure, the payments appear to be handsome.

"[We] have so far paid out $130 million in claims," Merle Lawrence, branch manager of Nagico Insurance Dominica, tells The Sun.

It is the largest payout by three leading insurance companies here, in claims from Hurricane Maria, the devastating nighttime destroyer that left hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in its wake on 18 September last year.

"To date we have paid $97.374 million and we still have a few more people to pay which should take us to about $110 million," Andy Joseph, manager of Beacon Insurance says, while New India Assurance expects to fork out over $70 million.

Eager to rebuild their lives by rebuilding their homes, homeowners here, who wanted to take advantage of government's limited concessions on material, had complain in the aftermath of the violent storm of the slow pace of claim settlements by the insurance companies.

In fact, the six-month concession period expired before payments were made, and the extension to March was a lot less generous, meaning a large number of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed missed out.

But the insurance companies now say they have honoured almost all of the claims, the largest number by far paid by Nagico.

Of 2,800 claims it received, which include property and motor vehicle, Lawrence says, "we have settled 93 per cent and have so far paid out $130 million in claims and our largest single payout has been $15 million".

Beacon Insurance, which hired British claims firm McLarens International, and hired 15 adjustors, contends its 1,100 claims were "settled promptly," with 97 per cent settled by February 2018.

New India, on the other hand, has paid out all claims from homeowners, says Julius Timothy, the company's managing director, with only a handful of claims from businesses outstanding, because, "believe or not, the adjusters have not yet finished their work and from what I know, we only have, say, about five or six [business] claims to pay and they are big ones".

"Our initial estimation was about $50 million, but overall, I think we will pay over $70 million. To date we have paid just about $60 million and we feel satisfied that we have met the client's requirements," Timothy says.

The insurance company boss boasts that most of his clients are "reasonably satisfied", although he readily admits that some are "quite upset", something both Beacon and Nagico also recognised, and which architect Severin McKenzie observed in May.

Back then McKenzie identified underinsurance as the reason, now confirmed by the three insurance companies. "They need to know when their premium expires to ensure prompt renewal especially those who pay monthly deductions to the banks and credit union. Also, if you make changes to the property, inform the insurance [company]," Beacon's Andy Joseph say.

At the same time, New India's Julius Timothy also advises homeowners to ensure that their properties are properly valued so, in the event they are hit by tragedy, the issue of underinsurance will not resurface.

"My advice to them is that, look at their valuation every three years to see what is happening to avoid that embarrassment again," he says.

With official estimates of nearly $370 billion in damage worldwide during the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, insurance premiums have been increasing drastically, as reinsurers seek to regain the money they spent on claims.

This, Timothy says, will make it difficult for homeowners here to maintain adequate coverage.

However, Nagico's Lawrence cautions against leaving insurance to chance.

"For those who were insured during [Hurricane] Maria we have had some happy clients who also came back to thanks us, so we advise you [to ensure] that the sum insured is adequate," she warns.