Hurricanes Irma and Michael impacted the Florida Panhandle several years ago, turning more than 150,000 property owners’ lives upside down. Today, thousands of homeowners’ lives and local businesses are still on hold because their properties were destroyed and their insurance companies have failed them miserably.
For far too many property owners, their insurance carriers denied or only offered minimum benefits for the total loss of their homes and businesses.
Today, 15,893 property owners (home and business) still have open claims and approximately 20,980 have had their claims closed without receiving a single penny. According to the Office of Insurance Regulation Hurricane Michael claims data, as of Oct. 25, 2019: 31% commercial claims and 11% residential claims are still open.
These Florida property owners had insurance and expected to be protected. However, when a storm actually hits, and it’s the insurance company’s turn to be responsible we see the most irresponsible behavior – delays, underpayment, disregard for Florida law, and acting in bad faith.
Some insurers have adopted the practice of sending multiple adjusters to survey property in an attempt to further delay payment of claims. I know many property owners who are left with a concrete slab where their home once stood and their insurer is still trying to “assess” the damage.
How many adjusters need to look at the total destruction for insurers to actually uphold their promise to consumers? All evidence points to insurers setting up a system to confuse, confound and convolute the claims process so that consumers either take gross underpayment for the total loss of property or just give up and go away.
“This is criminal,” was the reaction of one Florida lawmaker upon seeing the total destruction of several homes of Hurricane Michael victims and hearing about ongoing delays and denials that have become the practice of several insurers.
In any other industry, a company whose business model was to gain revenue while intentionally not performing under contract, would be prohibited from operating. Yet, this has become standard practice for insurance companies.
Who is going to stand up for 93,645 consumers — 17,347 open Hurricane Michael claims and 76,298 for Hurricane Irma more than two years ago, according to the Office of Insurance Regulation website — who are still waiting?
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has proposed legislation that would speed up the claims process after a storm, SB 1492/HB 1137, sponsored by Senator Tom Wright and Representative Chuck Clemons is a step in the right direction in protecting property owners who face delay after delay by their insurance company.
Other proposals like the property insurance bills proposed by Sen. George Gainer and Rep. Jay Trumbull HB 1357/SB 1760, go even further to protect property owners and prevent insurers practice of failing to properly pay claims.
If insurance companies won’t uphold their promise to consumers, it’s up to lawmakers to uphold their commitment to constituents and hold insurance companies accountable.
Amy Boggs is CEO and founder of Boggs Law Group, P. A., which has offices in St. Petersburg and Marianna to serve Hurricane Michael policyholders. The firm represents policyholders who have a property insurance claim dispute or who have experienced residential or commercial property damage throughout the state.