Heavy storm damage causes homeowners insurance to jump 9.7 percent in Ohio

By Matt Leingang, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

Homeowners insurance jumps 9.7 percent in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Homeowners insurance rates jumped an average of 9.7 percent in Ohio last year, the fallout from historic storm damage and one of the largest increases in recent years, government regulators said Monday.

Premiums jumped in 2009 after a round of severe weather in 2008 that included remnants of Hurricane Ike battering homes and businesses and knocking out power to millions. Insurance companies paid out $1.4 billion in claims from that storm, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in Ohio history.

State Insurance Director Mary Jo Hudson said she expects 2010 rates to be similar because of more weather-related claims and building costs.

A storm and tornadoes that ripped through northwest Ohio in early June caused at least $22.1 million in damage. Six people died in the tornadoes that destroyed dozens of homes near Toledo.

Regulators will continue to monitor insurance markets and assure that Ohioans have access to competitive coverage, Hudson said.

Westfield Group showed a 15.9 percent premium increase in 2009, the highest among the state’s top 10 homeowners insurers, the government said. Nationwide Corp. was second with a 14.3 percent increase.

Messages seeking comment were left with both companies.

Ohioans paid an average of $635 for homeowners insurance in 2009, according to estimates from the Ohio Insurance Institute, an industry trade association. The group projects an average of $653 for 2010.

Cost vary greatly among consumers because personal claims differ and not all insurance companies experience the same degree of losses, said Mary Bonelli, a spokeswoman for the trade association.

In a separate analysis, the government said the cost of auto insurance also rose in 2009 but at a much slower level. Car insurance premiums increased an average of 2.8 percent and are expected to increase slightly in 2010, the government said.

Cars are safer and people are driving less because of the slow economy, Bonelli said. Ohio also has hundreds of companies providing auto insurance coverage — competition that helps keep premiums low, she said.

Ohio’s average auto premium — about $650 in 2009 — was less than the $672 average in 2003, Bonelli said.

Ohio has the 11th-lowest auto insurance and the 6th-lowest homeowners insurance average premiums in the U.S., according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

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