Insurance companies could pay more than $35 billion in claims for homes and businesses wrecked by natural disasters in 2011, a record year for federal disaster declarations, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
Catastrophes during the first nine months of the year caused $32.6 billion in direct insured losses, almost double the !8.6 billion in losses insurance companies generally incur in the same time period of any year.
"The $32.6 billion figure doesn't even include the significant insured losses which arose after the pre-Halloween snowstorm, which caused enormous damage to multiple states along the Atlantic seaboard. Coupled with other events in 2011's fourth quarter, direct insured losses could exceed $35 billion (for the year)," economist Robert Hartwig, the institute's president, said in a press statement.
Despite the unusual number of catastrophes, U.S. property/casualty insurance companies remain well-capitalized and able to pay future claims, according to Hartwig.
The policyholders' surplus -- the net worth of insurance companies -- fell only 4 percent to $538.6 billion as of Sept. 30, compared to $559.2 billion at year-end 2010, according to the institute.
The federal government declared a major disaster 99 times in 2011, breaking the record of 81 set in 2010, the institute said. The government's designation of a disaster makes federal funding available to people and businesses impacted by a catastrophe.