Even After Three Hurricanes, Insurance Experts Aren't Expecting Big Rate Increases

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Homeowners around Florida fear they will take a financial hit from this summer of storms even if they didn't suffer any hurricane damage. They're worried about insurance rate hikes to cover the state's devastating losses, but it looks like rates will hold steady, at least for awhile.

The verdict is still out on total damages from Hurricane Ivan, but Hurricanes Charley and Frances will likely cost Florida more than $11 billion in insured losses.

Still, Sam Miller with the Florida Insurance Council says the industry can weather the storm.

“There isn't any other state in the country where an insurance system could handle three major hurricane hits in one year.”

Miller credits a major overhaul to Florida's insurance industry after Hurricane Andrew a dozen years ago. Up to 300 percent rate increases then mean homeowners probably won't see major increases now because companies are in much better financial shape.

Downed tree limbs litter the state from one end to the other, a continuing reminder that even counties well inland suffered hurricane damage, not just the coastal counties.

Insurers expect more than one million claims just from Frances and Charley, but Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Bob Lotane says that doesn't mean they'll automatically be granted rate increases.

“They would have to show actual losses that they've actually experienced, insured losses that show that going forward, that their rates were inadequate or are inadequate at the present time, and going forward they would have to have higher rates so that they would have adequate resources to pay claims.”

For now, insurers are forbidden from canceling or non-renewing polices through November 30, and even after that you can't be cancelled just for filing a hurricane-related claim.

The Insurance Information Institute of New York estimates one in five Florida homes have been damaged by a hurricane this year. The Institute says the total payout by insurance companies could be higher than it was for hurricane Andrew, the most costly storm ever in the U.S.