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Puerto Ricans fight for insurance money a year after Hurricane Maria

Published:Tuesday | October 23, 2018 | 12:34 PM
In this October 9, 2018 photo, 48-year-old businessman Edwin Rosario poses for the camera holding an image of his restaurant damaged by Hurricane Maria, in Dorado, Puerto Rico. The 48-year-old reported damages exceeding half a million dollars, but has received only $93,000 from the insurance company and has used up all his savings, sold his home and transferred his daughter to a more affordable school. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

DORADO, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of Puerto Ricans have been forced to drain their savings, close their businesses, or resign themselves to living with structural damage as they fight insurance companies over millions of dollars’ worth of claims that have gone unanswered or unpaid more than a year after Hurricane Maria.

Experts say the Category 4 storm caught insurance companies off-guard and left them reeling financially after they were hit with nearly 279,000 claims, a number that one expert called “extraordinary.”

One major insurer has already folded, leaving more than 1,500 claims worth a total of $70 million up in the air.

Many worry other companies might follow.

“The industry has never faced such an astronomical number of claims,” said Iraelia Pernas, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Association of Insurance Companies.

“No one was prepared for that, not the federal government, not the insurance companies, no one.”

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner of Puerto Rico has already issued fines totalling more than $2.4 million against at least seven companies for delays in resolution and payment of claims.

All companies in the U.S. territory had bought reinsurance, but it was insufficient for some.

Commissioner Javier Rivera said it’s too early to say what will happen with Real Legacy, the company that folded.

But he believes the other company that exceeded its reinsurance limits, Triple-S, has enough capital to avoid a similar fate.

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