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Insurers take no-questions-asked stance with auto claims

Minneapolis -- They survived after a bridge fell from under their wheels, but they couldn't escape a mundane and oft-dreaded task: calling the insurance company.

Minneapolis -- They survived after a bridge fell from under their wheels, but they couldn't escape a mundane and oft-dreaded task: calling the insurance company.

Fortunately, the companies knew exactly where these drivers were coming from.

"When you say that you were on the bridge ... everyone knew what you meant," said Jean Forster, who was driving home to St. Paul when the Interstate 35W bridge went down. "You didn't have to say much more than that."

Forster's Toyota Prius was among the 100 or so vehicles still on the bridge after the Aug. 1 collapse in Minneapolis, and she is one of the people who knows firsthand how insurance companies handled this unusual event -- and why they are keeping some cars that would otherwise belong in the junkyard.

Several major insurers, including State Farm and Progressive, decided that vehicles that remained on the bridge would be declared a total loss, allowing the owners to receive checks so they could buy new cars.

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"It's clearly a covered incident. ... That wasn't ever a question," said Mark Kulda of the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.

Kulda said one reason that many insurers took a no-questions-asked approach was that the number of vehicles was relatively small.

"This wasn't like we had 15,000 claims to adjust. ... It wasn't a hailstorm at rush hour."

Bill Walsh, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Commerce, said his department had received only one call about insurance issues related to the bridge collapse.

Sonia O'Brien, a spokeswoman for State Farm, said the company handled about 25 claims related to the collapse. Most were handled under the comprehensive portion of the policy, though at least one policyholder who didn't have comprehensive was able to file a claim under a collision policy.

The firm also paid a few repair claims for cars involved in minor collisions on the parts of the bridge that didn't collapse, she said.

Insurance companies are used to disasters, but O'Brien said, "This is something new for us -- and everyone else."

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