Insurance coverage for Matthew damage varies in Hampton Roads

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — “Please take this as a cautionary tale. Read your insurance. Contact your agent,” Chesapeake homeowner Christine Eaves said after she was caught off guard by her insurance coverage.

Eaves says a few words in the Allstate policy she’s had for at least 13 years didn’t mean much to her, until she started the process to file a claim.

Eaves had a tree fall on her home at 4:00 in the morning while she and her husband were sleeping. The tree fell down during the wind and rain from Matthew.

“I’m sleeping and all of a sudden before I see it, I hear it, and it’s the loudest sound I had ever heard. And I immediately look up and I see branches coming in through the roof,” she explained.

Eaves and her husband weren’t hurt. They immediately left the room and moments later, her husband called Allstate. She says they were told to remove the tree, tarp the roof, and that they’d have to pay their $1,000 deductible.

But a few days later, an Allstate adjuster flew in from the Midwest and informed the Eaves their out-of-pocket cost for the damage had jumped from $1,000 to nearly $12,000.

“A few days before the adjuster came out, he called us and informed us that Allstate had invoked the tropical hurricane — whatever,” Eaves said, noting the explanation to her was confusing.

10 On Your Side did some digging, and learned that some insurance companies, like Allstate, have a separate hurricane/tropical storm deductible. That is not usually a flat fee, but a percentage of the home’s insured value. For Eaves, it was 5 percent.

Eaves said that didn’t make sense, because Matthew was not a hurricane in Virginia. We found out that Allstate invokes its hurricane policy if there is a named storm with a watch or warning, not only in the state in which you live, but if there is a watch or warning in a neighboring state. During Matthew, North Carolina had those warnings.

10 On Your Side reached out to Allstate for a better explanation, they provided us with this statement:

Our Allstate claims representatives from around the country are on the ground in the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area helping customers affected by Hurricane Matthew. We encourage customers to read through their policy and understand their coverages. Our local agencies are always available to discuss policy or coverage questions with customers.”

– Shaundra Turner Jones, Allstate spokesperson

WAVY’s Deanna LeBlanc called as many homeowners insurance companies in Virginia as she could track down. Few have answered her questions, but she did learn that Safeco, State Farm and Liberty Mutual did not invoke the hurricane coverage, so their customers would only have to pay their deductibles.

A spokeswoman with the Insurance Information Institute told 10 On Your Side the varying deductibles by company is completely legal. She said that “the information is clearly stated in what’s call the ‘declarations’ part of the policy (the very front of the policy). Sadly, many people don’t read their policies carefully until after a disaster.”

The spokeswoman added that “your home is your most valuable asset, that’s why you need to read your policy and ask your insurance professional any questions you might have. Every policy is different; every insurer is different.”

She also said that in some states, policy holders may have the option to pay a higher monthly premium, and in doing so, would return to traditional flat fee deductibles rather than percentages. That would vary by the home’s location to a coastline. In some high-risk coastal areas that may not be an option, but she encourages all homeowners to educate themselves, and ask questions of their insurance agents.