At risk: Many companies don’t have enough disaster insurance

NEW YORK (AP) — A fire at the gun shop next door never reached Kathy Laurienti’s sausage and specialty food store, but the water and smoke damage was enough to shut her business down. Because Laurienti didn’t have enough insurance, it’s still closed — more than a year later.

Laurienti still doesn’t know how much her total losses will be, but estimates she’ll have to pay $30,000 to $40,000 from her own pocket. While she had $10,000 in coverage for lost income, she’ll likely have lost $100,000 in business by the time she can reopen.

“You don’t think about what the insurance might not handle,” says Laurienti, whose store, Paisano, is located in a shopping center in Denver.

It’s a lesson learned all too often, including by business owners hit by natural disasters like this summer’s flooding in Louisiana that caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to companies. Some businesses in the Southeast are still assessing their losses from Hurricane Matthew, which caused an estimated $10 billion in commercial and residential losses.

The government estimates that 40 percent of companies that haven’t prepared themselves to be able to operate after a disaster are forced to shut down. And 25 percent of businesses fail within two years because of inadequate post-disaster revenue or cash flow. Adequate insurance would help them survive.

Small companies frequently either don’t buy insurance at all or don’t have enough to cover their losses when disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and power outages strike.

Many owners who do buy insurance opt for a standard business policy that covers fire, rain, wind and vandalism. These policies may also include business interruption insurance, which covers lost income when a company cannot operate. But they don’t cover damage from floods or earthquakes, which can be serious threats in many parts of the country.

“Most (owners) are buying it as if it’s a commodity product instead of understanding it needs to be customized to their particular situation,” says Robert Borghese, who teaches law and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Many rely too much on insurance brokers who may not have a thorough understanding of the coverage they’re selling, Borghese says. Brokers may not know what a particular company’s needs are.

Owners may also trying to keep their costs down, and don’t think about the “what ifs,” says Belen Tokarski, a senior vice president at Insureon, an online insurance broker aimed at small businesses. It can cost thousands of dollars to insure a building and its contents in moderate-to-high risk areas.