March 21, 2016

Assembly Passes Disaster Relief Legislation

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Insurance Committee Chair Kevin Cahill announced today the passage of a legislative package designed to reform the current process by which insurance companies handle claims that result from disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. The bills would require insurance companies to use language that is understandable to policy holders and process claims in a more timely fashion.

"New Yorkers are doing everything they can to prepare for disasters, especially in the aftermath of storms like Sandy, Irene and Lee," said Heastie. "Unfortunately, too often people misunderstand the language used in insurance policies and find themselves in financial crisis when they realize their insurance either does not cover their losses, the coverage is not enough to pay for all of the damage, or payment is untimely. These measures are meant to ensure that New Yorkers are informed and aware of their insurance protections and limitations."

"Hurricane Sandy has become the second-costliest tropical storm ever recorded in the United States," said Assemblymember Cahill. "The consequences of this storm, and other disasters, become even more severe when those who are impacted by them realize they significantly misunderstood the terms of their insurance policies, or are forced to wait months or years to be compensated. This legislation helps protect individuals from being overwhelmed by and at the mercy of insurance companies."

To help ensure that insurance policyholders fully understand their coverage and that their claims are handled in an efficient manner, the package includes four bills that address these common issues.

Under Assembly bill A.1230-A, the Superintendent of Financial Services will be required to provide standardized definitions for commonly used terms and phrases found in homeowners policies and commercial lines policies that provide coverage for loss or damage to real property, personal property, or other liabilities for loss or damage to property.

In the event the governor declares a State Disaster Emergency, the package includes legislation that would require the court to provide for expedited judicial review for claims related to damages which occurred within the designated disaster area (A.2946, Titone).

The package also includes a measure that would establish a set time period that an insurance provider has to let the claimant know if their claim has been accepted or rejected (A.4458, Skoufis). Under the proposal, the insurer would have fifteen days after receiving all necessary proof of loss to inform the policy holder of the decision. Upon settlement, the insurer would have three days to pay the claim.

Lastly, insurance companies often use different catastrophic windstorm deductible amounts or percentages and triggering events causing confusion and uncertainty as to when a homeowner is required to pay the deductible and what amount is mandatory. The package includes a bill that would require the Superintendent of Financial Services to establish standards for these deductibles and uniformity regarding the triggering event. (A.7537, Kaminsky).