Volume 1 Number 43
October 25, 2004










TEXT VERSION


A hurricane can inflict incredible physical destruction, but it also brings chaos into people’s lives.  Even in the best circumstances, many citizens can find the process of rebuilding their lives and property extremely stressful. Realizing this, Florida’s Department of Financial Services is implementing a mediation program to assist residents who are struggling to reach an agreement with their insurance company. 

This program is being set up as an alternative to the costly and time-consuming process of litigation, and is free of charge to policyholders, making it an attractive option for many.  Individuals should not be forced to hire an attorney and go to court in order to be treated fairly by their insurance company.   

It is important to remember that, prior to filing for the mediation process, consumers should first call the Department’s toll free hurricane helpline at 1-800-22-STORM and let one of our staff assist you with your insurance claim.  We have fielded over 70,000 calls to date and are working with policyholders to quickly and satisfactorily resolve disputes.   

Experience shows that mediation is an exceptional way for consumers to quickly settle their insurance disputes.  Following Hurricane Andrew, I established a mediation program very similar to the one we are currently implementing.  The results were extremely encouraging, as almost 90 percent of consumers walked away satisfied.  However, using mediation does not preempt your right to pursue other legal remedies. 

After requesting mediation, an insurance carrier has 21 days to try to resolve the disputed claim.  If unresolved, a mediation meeting must be scheduled within 20 days.  Following Andrew, many consumers were able to come to an agreement with their insurance company during that twenty-one day period. 

Realizing, however, that policyholders and companies may not always be able to come to an agreement, we feel that mediation is an excellent option for the consumer.  If you are a consumer who feels that mediation is the appropriate remedy for your insurance claim, there are a few important things to keep in mind when preparing for your meeting.             

  • It is helpful to review your policy and be familiar with its specifics.  Bring it with you to the mediation center.
  • Gather any documentation you may have regarding your insurance claim.  This may include, but is not limited to:  estimates from contractors, engineer reports on structural damage, any correspondence you’ve had from your insurance company, photographs documenting damage and receipts for any temporary repairs you have made.
  • If you are a citizen who speaks a language other than English, it is your responsibility to bring someone to translate for you.

I recognize and understand the frustration and personal hardship that results after a devastating hurricane moves through.  That’s why we at the Department of Financial Services are committed to assisting customers who are having trouble navigating the murky waters of insurance.  Our mediation program has an established track record of success, and I am confident that it will prove once again to be an effective program for residents impacted by the storms.

The skyline for October is Daytona Beach, photo courtesy of the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
 


 

GALLAGHER REQUESTS DEADLINES FOR INSURERS TO HANDLE STORM CLAIMS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today asked state regulators to develop an emergency rule directing insurance companies to speed up their efforts to resolve hurricane claims, and setting specific deadlines for companies and their adjusters to evaluate damage and start the claims process.

Gallagher said the rule should be brought to the Governor and Cabinet next Tuesday, October 26, for approval.

Gallagher said firm deadlines are necessary based on numerous calls to the department’s hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM from storm victims who have yet to see an adjuster or are waiting for an adjuster to return to do a damage assessment.

“One of our top complaints continues to be delays working with a claims adjuster,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services. “Setting deadlines will help thousands of Floridians who are still waiting to start the claims process.”  CONTINUED


 

 

DFS REMINDS CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTORS OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REQUIREMENTS

In response to hundreds of calls from homeowners and construction contractors, both in and out-of-state, concerned about Florida requirements for workers’ compensation insurance coverage, the Florida Department of Financial Services is reiterating the responsibilities of contractors under state law.

Under Florida law, construction employers with one or more employees must provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. Construction employers who are corporate officers or members of a limited liability company can exempt themselves from coverage if they obtain an exemption from the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Workers’ Compensation. In addition, out-of-state contractors must obtain a Florida policy or a policy endorsed by their current carrier using Florida rates.

The department remains concerned that homeowners who employ an uninsured contractor may be held financially responsible if an injury occurs during repairs. CONTINUED
 

 

 

 

FINANCIAL ISSUES UNIQUE TO THE MILITARY

Military service comes with its own degree of stress. Add financial mismanagement and poor planning to the mix and a tough situation can be worse for those lacking knowledge and experience. In an effort to better protect those who serve and defend our freedom, the Florida Department of Financial Services has been working with military bases throughout the state to provide basic financial information to junior enlisted service members and their commanding officers.

One base that department staff is actively involved in is the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. NAS Pensacola -- fondly known as the Cradle of Aviation -- began as a navy yard in the early 1800s. Two years after the first aircraft carrier was built, the navy yard at Pensacola became an aviation training station, and it remained the only naval air station in the country until the United States entered World War I. After World War I, approximately 100 pilots per year graduated from NAS Pensacola. By the time the United States was involved in World War II, NAS Pensacola was training 1,100 cadets per month. Thousands of pilots still train there today. CONTINUED
 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW FEDERAL LAW AFFECTS CHECK “GRACE PERIODS”

If you have ever relied on a “grace period” when you write a personal check, you should be aware of a new federal law that now allows your checks to be “cashed” on the spot.

Effective October 28, many Florida banks will begin an electronic check conversion process known as Check 21. Check 21 is a federal law that allows for the processing of personal checks in real time, which means funds can be immediately accessed from your bank account.

Electronic check processing is not new to the financial industry but as more banks use Check 21, those on fixed incomes who may have relied on a grace period when paying bills could be impacted.

“Always make sure you have enough money in your account to cover the checks you write at the time you write them,” said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer. CONTINUED
 

 

 

OFR ASSISTS SEC IN ACTION AGAINST INVESTMENT COMPANY

Florida's Office of Financial Regulation recently assisted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in an investigation of Learn Waterhouse, Inc., an investment company with offices in Jacksonville, which led the SEC to order the company to cease and desist selling of investments. The order also froze Learn Waterhouse's assets and appointed a temporary receiver for the company.

SEC officials allege that Texas-based Learn Waterhouse, with principals Randall T. Treadwell, Savannah, Georgia; Rick D. Sluder, Tyler, Texas; Larry C. Saturday, Savannah; Georgia and Anulfo M. Acosta, Pasadena, Texas, raised more than $24 million to fund phony investments. More than 600 Florida investors lost a total of $15.7 million.

The investigation was conducted jointly and involved the SEC, the Florida OFR, the FBI and securities regulators in several states. CONTINUED