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Damage won't decimate insurers

Every hurricane is different but the insured damage tally left by Hurricane Jeanne appears to be in the same range as the three previous storms this summer: $4-billion to $8-billion.

No matter the final figure, insurers agree Jeanne is likely to join its siblings from this season _ Charley, Frances and Ivan _ on the top 10 list of the most expensive hurricanes to strike the United States.

Risk Management Solutions Inc., which estimates storm damage based on computer models instead of claims filed, said Jeanne might cost insurers $4-billion to $8-billion. Eqecat Inc., another storm modeler, estimated damage between $6-billion and $8-billion.

Insurers expect to pay $6.8-billion for losses from Hurricane Charley, about $4.4-billion for Hurricane Frances, and $3-billion to $5-billion for Hurricane Ivan. None of the figures include damage from flooding, which is covered by a federal program, or uninsured losses.

"All of these (storms) together likely will produce damage somewhere in the $20-billion range, which is approaching what Hurricane Andrew was," said Bob Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute.

Hartwig estimated that Ivan and Jeanne are each in the $4-billion to $5-billion range. If so, that would give Florida the dubious distinction of getting hit by four of the six most costly hurricanes on record within six weeks.

Yet, with Florida's retooled system of higher insurance premiums and high out-of-pocket deductibles, there was little concern among insurers and state regulators of a huge solvency problem like the state saw after Andrew when a dozen insurers were forced out of business.

"The industry would be able to sustain, believe it or not, several more events of this magnitude that we've seen," Hartwig said. "Beyond that, it gets to be in a difficult situation."

Currently, 168 companies are collecting property insurance premiums in Florida.

The Florida Department of Financial Services, which oversees insurance, is keeping a close watch on several, weaker carriers that were a concern before Hurricane Charley struck.

However, the state hasn't placed a single property insurer under supervision, the first sign of stepping in to help policyholders with a troubled company, according to Bob Lotane of the department's Office of Insurance Regulation.

After supervision, if a company's finances continue to deteriorate, it might be placed under "rehabilitation," in which the state approves all financial transactions. After that, the last step is liquidation.

"I know of no insurer that's on the brink of insolvency," Hartwig said, echoing the state's assessment.

Lotane declined to name any of the "handful" of insurers that the state is watching closely, but said they were small carriers with less than $50-million in written premiums.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at or (813) 226-3407.