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Insurer buckles under claims

Florida's hurricanes have claimed their first insurance casualty.

American Superior Insurance Co., a small insurer that writes homeowners' policies for nearly 60,000 Floridians, was swamped with claims and voluntarily consented to be placed under state rehabilitation late Wednesday.

The move essentially gives the state control over the company's operations as receiver. It does not mean the company will necessarily liquidate, state officials said. If it reaches that point, claims would be paid out of the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association.

Under the receivership terms, no policies will be canceled.

"Our No. 1 priority will be to take care of policyholders with storm claims," said Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the state's Department of Financial Services.

According to Gallagher, the department, as receiver, plans to hire more claims adjusters to handle the increased workload.

Although the state is keeping an eye on several vulnerable carriers, American Superior was the first to falter.

"The company contacted us to say that the number of claims were coming in at a rapid rate and there were some financial concerns," said Tami Torres, a spokeswoman for Gallagher's office. "They voluntarily consented to be put under rehabilitation at that point."

Torres said American Superior had a large presence in the Panhandle, which was hit by Hurricane Ivan, but it also has claims from Charley and Frances and anticipates claims from Hurricane Jeanne.

American's premium volume in 2003 was $34-million, representing less than 1 percent of the homeowners insurance market.

The company has policyholders in Bay, Brevard, Escambia, Gulf, Indian River, Martin, Okaloosa, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, Torres said. It has no Tampa Bay area policies.

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

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