Irma claims top $6B, Citizens braces for 50,000-plus new customers

Updated Dec 13, 2017

After Hurricane Irma stung property insurers for $6.3 billion in claims and counting, Florida’s state-run and second-largest carrier expects to add more than 50,000 customers in 2018.

“We’re expecting to go from 442,000 back to 500,000,” Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., told the company’s board meeting Wednesday.

Full coverage of Hurricane Irma, aftermath 

Citizens has not always been right in its own forecasts, initially failing to predict it would shrink as much as it has from a high of about 1.5 million customers several years ago.

But as private insurers’ appetite for new business grew during Florida’s 11-year hurricane hiatus ending in 2016, now it is expected to weaken in Irma’s wake. Many private companies limit their risk exposure, particularly in Southeast Florida, for reasons ranging from hurricane risk to assertions that claim costs in the region are abusively inflated by contractors, public adjusters and lawyers.

Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach is raked by wind, rain and water from Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10, 2017. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post) Photo: Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Even at a reduced size, Citizens remains the state’s second-largest insurer. Growing to 500,000 customers next year would represent about a 14 percent increase.

Citizens has about 42,000 customers in Palm Beach County.

The company’s risk exposure, or the value of the properties it covers, is expected to grow from about $112 billion to $120 billion, Gilway said.

Citizens expects to pay about $1.2 billion for Irma claims and preserve a $6.4 billion surplus, meaning a reserve to pay future claims. Industrywide, more than 850,000 claims have been filed representing nearly $6.3 billion, including more than 36,000 claims in Palm Beach County.

This flooded Florida citrus grove is shown in September after Hurricane Irma.

The nine-member Citizens board, meeting Wednesday in Maitland, also welcomed new members to fill vacancies.

One is Blake Capps, of Hobe Sound, a founding partner at Capps and Huff Roofing Inc., now Capps Roofing Inc. He was appointed by state Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Another is former state Senate President John McKay, of Bradenton, appointed by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Returning for a renewed stint on the board is John Wortman, of Ponte Vedra, who previously served from 2011 to 2016. The former CEO of Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance was appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.