As Hurricane Ida grew rapidly from a blip into one of the most dangerous storms to ever take aim at Louisiana, officials from numerous jurisdictions sounded the alarm and urged residents to get out of harm’s way. Some called for mandatory evacuations, while others noted that it was simply too late to enact contraflow and get everyone safely out. But the message that it was safer to leave than stay was crystal clear.
Yet some insurance companies pointed to the absence of mandatory orders to refuse to reimburse evacuation expenses to their customers, as if they’d taken the opportunity to go on vacation rather than made a sound, potentially lifesaving choice.
That’s offensive, and we’re glad Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon joined President Joe Biden in calling them on it.
Donelon ordered companies to pay customers who were not mandated to evacuate but went anyway. He said the “civil authority” policy provision is meant to protect insurers against abuse, but also that just 74 hours passed between the formation of the tropical depression that would become Ida and its landfall as a Category 4 storm.
“Officials throughout the region took to the airwaves to get out the message that people needed to leave or stay in a safe place,” he said. “Insurers must treat the many diverse actions taken by public officials as an order to leave and pay people who have coverage for their expenses.”
That’s the right call. Ida wasn’t the first hurricane in this age of superstorms to go from nuisance to menace in short order, and it surely won’t be the last. Evacuation protocols will need to evolve to account for the new reality. The insurance industry will, too.