Motorists in Oklahoma have filed almost 17,500 tornado-related auto coverage claims after tornadoes raked across the state late last month, a figure that “continues to soar,” according to the latest figures from the state’s regulatory office.

Auto-related claims outnumber the number of homeowners and commercial property claims, which total 13,938 and 724, respectively, the Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) reported Tuesday, with auto coverage claims representing 53 percent of the total 32,433 claims filed since May 19.

“The victims can rest assured that we will be here to help until the last claim is filed,” John Doak, OID’s commissioner, said in a statement.

Currently, losses from personal auto policies are almost $30.5 million, which is around 12 percent of total insured losses of nearly $250 million, according to Kelly Collins, OID’s communications manager, who provided OAIN the latest figures Thursday. Homeowners claims made up most of insured loss amounts, at $211 million.

Oklahoma was the site for devastating weather last month, beginning with a fatal outbreak of tornadoes cutting through towns to the south of Oklahoma City on May 20 followed by a miles-wide, record-breaking tornado on May 31 in El Reno, Okla., northwest of the capital; both weather events brought EF-5-rated tornadoes, the top rating for tornado strength assigned by meteorologists.

Residents in areas victimized by the tornadoes can find OID information at the areas listed here. The OID can also offer assistance at 1-800-522-0071.

Institute Gives Advice on Post-Storm Claims

Motorists filing vehicle damage claims can rely on the comprehensive coverage portion of their Oklahoma car insurance policy to pay for disaster-related losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), which offers an online “Lessons from Moore” guide for the claims process.

Lynne McChristian, III’s catastrophe coordinator, said that she saw significantly different kinds of car damage than she has from hurricane weather like in Florida, where she is based.

“Vehicles looked like they had been rolled in a traffic accident and then set to rest on a muddy lake bottom,” she said in an interview with OAIN. “To compare with other disasters, such as a hurricane, you are more inclined to see cars smashed beneath trees or perhaps under carports.”

Comprehensive claims payments for totaled vehicles are based on the car’s current value in the local market, called the actual cash value (ACV), which consumers can find themselves through resources like Kelley Blue Book or the National Automobile Dealers Association.

The typical car coverage policy does not offer full reimbursement to replace a totaled car, according to the III, though some insurers will offer a replacement to new vehicles after “a limited number of years” if they were insured as new.

OID also Speeds Up Claims Work, Issues Consumer Warnings

OID made more adjusters available after Doak allowed temporary licenses be granted in the emergency. Those licenses, available through the OID office in Oklahoma City, are meant to shield victims from “unscrupulous characters attempting to take advantage of them,” according to the department.

To that end, OID is working with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) to combat predatory impounders and towers “coming in and taking these vehicles,” according to Mark Wenthold, a special agent for the bureau.

“The owners and insurance companies don’t know where they are,” Wenthold said. “If the Vehicle Identification Numbers aren’t recorded, the cars can end up being crushed and the VINs used on stolen vehicles in the weeks and months ahead.”

Legitimate towers and impounders are registered with local law enforcement, according to Doak.

“We’re active with our vehicles coming through the area,” he said in a joint statement with the NICB. “Our folks are in uniform and plain clothes, in marked and unmarked vehicles. NICB has helped train local law enforcement on insurance fraud and we’re all working together to make it known that we don’t tolerate this in our state.”

Industry, Weather Officials Advise About Future Harsh Weather

The tornadoes in Oklahoma may just be a signal of wild weather for the entire U.S., spurring a number of coverage-related advisories.

After spring storms in Missouri, regulators there said that policyholders cleaning up vehicle damage should “make temporary repairs to prevent further damage,” like broken car windows.

“Otherwise, further damage will likely not be covered by your insurance policy,” Missouri regulators said in their advisory. “Keep the receipts for materials you buy so you can be reimbursed.”

Also, industry officials say policyholders should recheck that their policies properly cover them in the event of a storm as the Atlantic hurricane season begins and the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts an “active” season. According to the NWS, there could be between three and six major Atlantic hurricanes, a range that is “well above the seasonal average.”

“It is more important than ever that consumers be prepared,” the III said in its advisory.

And Florida’s wet spring season is already beginning with Tropical Storm Andrea edging toward the west coast of the state.