Louisiana residents who fled their homes because of Hurricane Ida should expect their homeowner's insurance company to pay for evacuation expenses, even in parishes without mandatory evacuation orders, the state Department of Insurance ruled Wednesday.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon is directing insurance providers to pay for hotel rooms and meals for residents who left the region because of the storm. It's a common complaint among residents that insurance companies were not reimbursing policyholders for such expenses to evacuate.
"That provision, requiring an evacuation order is there to protect the insurer," Donelon said. Insurers are fearful people would use a hurricane heading into the Gulf as "as an invitation to have a weeks' stay at a vacation destination."
"It worked over the years until this instance," he said.
Public officials were pressed to make a decision about mandatory evacuations hours before the storm would make landfall. There were mandatory evacuations in Assumption, St. Charles, Terrbonne, Lafourche and for communities outside the levee system in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.
Donelon said it’s likely if there was enough time before Ida made landfall, evacuations would have been mandatory across South Louisiana. But the severity and trajectory of the storm didn’t make that possible.
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Allstate, USAA and United Property and Casualty decided to offer living expenses to policyholders without the evacuation requirement.
But State Farm has been hesitant to pay for evacuation expenses when no mandatory order was made, according to the insurance department.
Donelon said he was surprised and disappointed by State Farm's decision which prompted the statewide ruling.
The order includes 25 parishes across the state: Ascension, Assumption, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.
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State Farm, which has the largest market share across Louisiana with roughly one-third of homeowners policies, rebuffed the claim.
Additional living expense payments are triggered when storms cause a home to become uninhabitable, according to the company's website.
"We are addressing the needs of displaced customers," according to a statement from State Farm. "Altering the terms of the contract for one event would be unfair to all those who have experienced loss from previous disasters."