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State officials visit to hear gripes against Citizens, Universal and other insurers

5/21/2013

By: Charles Elmore

Palm Beach Post

Homeowners who have a beef with Citizens, Universal Property or other insurers can tell it to state advocates in person this week.

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott offers homeowners an opportunity to “share their insurance claim experiences and improve the claim-handling process” at an Insurance Consumer Forum Wednesday in Boca Raton.

It’s from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, 3200 North Military Trail, Suite 102 in Boca Raton.

There’s also a forum at 6 p.m. at 1765 NE 26th Street in Fort Lauderdale.

The Palm Beach County forum is the fifth in a series to be held around the state. For homeowners, it’s an opportunity not only to seek help with individual concerns but also let state officials know what issues may need addressing by regulation or legislation.

Also appearing: Tasha Carter, director of the state’s Division of Consumer Services, which operates the state insurance consumer helpline. Last year, the division said it received more than 325,000 consumer calls and helped recover more than $22.5 million for Florida policyholders in claim payments and premium refunds.

Policyholders seeking assistance with an insurance-related issue can call the toll-free Insurance Helpline at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (693-5236).

Previous forums have addressed, for example, claims practices by the state’s largest property insurer after state-run Citizens, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Co. of Fort Lauderdale.

Homeowners said they paid premiums for years only to see Universal cancel their policy when they filed a claim, based on information the company said the policyholder left out of an application. That information has frequently been something the homeowners said they did not know about, forgot or considered trivial, such as a tax lien satisfied years before in another state. That has left homeowners devastated and forced to pay out of pocket for damage — more than $90,000 for fire in one case.

Westcott has called the practice “reprehensible.” Universal officials have maintained they are within the law and it’s up to policyholders to submit accurate information.

The Florida Senate passed a provision that would bar such denials 90 days after an application, but the House did not take up the measure before the legislative session ended early this month.

Consumer Insurance Forums

The state’s insurance consumer advocate and division of consumer services invite homeowners to talk about claims problems and other issues.

  • Boca Raton, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. Wednesday
    Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches
    3200 N. Military Trail, Suite 102
  • Fort Lauderdale, 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
    Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors East
    1765 NE 26th Street