Roger Hickman is still not ready to speak publicly about his experiences post-tornado.
His home was severely damaged.
His office was severely damaged.
His parents’ home was destroyed.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hickman, a longtime State Farm insurance agent, is the agent for many other Washington residents whose homes and vehicles were damaged, severely damaged or destroyed.
“This past 11 months has just been crazy,” he said shortly before the tornado’s one-year anniversary.
The tornado wrecked 1,108 homes in Washington. State Farm insured roughly 500 of the damaged households. Of the 500, about 350 homeowners were Hickman’s clients.
“We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of open claims,” he said. “I just want to make sure all of the work gets done and all of my people are taken care of.”
Homeowners’ insurance-related complaints have subsided, according to Washington Mayor Gary Manier.
But in the weeks after the tornado, Manier would receive five or six calls a day from homeowners, emotional about their loss and anxious about their insurance coverage.
“The first few months were difficult,” Manier said. “The hardest ones were the ones that weren’t completely destroyed. We were hearing from really frustrated residents.”
Washington residents accounted for 26 of the 59 formal insurance complaints handled by the Illinois Department of Insurance in the aftermath of the Nov. 17, 2013, storm. Eleven came from Gifford, and the remaining 22 came from throughout the state. The department does not release the outcome of complaints.
A proposed meeting about insurance issues between the mayor and State Farm’s CEO never materialized, but Manier met with claims adjusters from a variety of insurance companies.
About 800 building permits have been issued in Washington since then. The figure could include permits for minor repairs, but the fact that Washington resembles a reconstruction site rather than a disaster site suggests the insurance process is working, said Jack Rozdilsky, a professor in the Emergency Management Program at Western Illinois University in Macomb.
“If we saw a lot of blank spots, that would indicate problems,” said Rozdilsky, who has also studied the aftermath of tornadoes in Washington, Moore, Okla., and Joplin, Mo. “But what we’re seeing indicates that people are getting insurance payouts and they’re using the payouts to rebuild.”
The construction also indicates residents have the proper insurance coverage, Rozdilsky said. Washington’s home ownership rate is 75 percent, and the median home value is $166,000, according to U.S. Census figures.
Since the tornado, State Farm Agent Jodi Brown said she has noticed more people educating themselves about what their homeowners’ policy does — or does not — cover.
They’ve also realized the importance of making an inventory of all household items and storing it in a safe deposit box, Brown said.
The lessons in the fine print of an insurance policy always hit home after a natural disaster, Rozdilsky said.
While many homeowners may not have known the difference between cash value and extended replacement policies, they learned.
Cash value policies, as the name implies, pay only the current value of property. For instance, a house built in 1982 would be reimbursed at the cost of a house built in 1982. A 10-year-old television would be valued at the cost of a 10-year-old television, rather than the current cost to replace it.
Premiums cost more for an extended replacement-cost policy, but such policies also reimburse at current market costs.
The fine print also details whether coverage includes the costs of temporary housing and debris removal, how much it reimburses for demolition costs or if it reimburses for spoiled food.
“It’s not uncommon to have conflicts between insurance companies and clients after a disaster,” Rozdilsky said, including conflicts that lead to lawsuits. “But it’s a mistake to say it’s common. A lot of people understand their settlements and work it out.”
Such issues aren’t unique to Washington or Tazewell County, he said. However, “From my observation, I don’t see any out-of-the-ordinary issues that would sideline the recovery process.”
8,000: State Farm Homeowner claims statewide.
$170 million: Total State Farm claims paid statewide. Includes pay-out for 2,000 auto claims.
Not known: State Farm claims still unpaid
Source: State Farm
We take a look back at Nov. 17, 2013, the day tornadoes swept a path of destruction through central Illinois, in our special section "Strength Shines Through" in Sunday's Journal Star and daily posts at http://www.pjstar.com/extra and at http://www.pjstar.com/tornado2013
Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @padamspam.