Jun 5, 2007
Citizens asks for time limit
on claim disputes
criticism for thousands of 2004 and 2005 hurricane claims
still open, Citizens Property Insurance seeks to rein in the
lawyers and freelance adjusters it alleges are whipping up
disputes in order to pocket large fees.
Hutchens, assistant general counsel for the state-run
property insurer, on Monday suggested to lawmakers limiting
the time a homeowner has to challenge disputed claims.
created a spawning ground for this stuff to go on,'' said
Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who told stories of public
adjusters offering wide-screen televisions to homeowners who
hire them to challenge their insurers. In return, those
adjusters collect fees of up to 40 percent of the insurance
The forum for
the exchange was Monday's meeting of a state task force on
Citizens Property Insurance claims handling.
''I can't say
they have failed to close claims as much as they have gotten
a lot of new ones and have had a lot reopen,'' Insurance
Consumer Advocate Bob Milligan said.
Chip Merlin, a
Tampa property-insurance lawyer, warned against limiting the
rights of homeowners to contend with what he said are
''statistical issues'' at the state's largest property
Citizens, as of
the end of May, had 3,510 claims from 2004 and 2005
hurricanes still pending, 2,723 of them in dispute over
total damage exceeding $120 million.
986 cases in court, a number that encompasses many Panhandle
residents suing Citizens for full payment on homes destroyed
by wind and flood in Hurricane Ivan.
lawyers and public adjusters may add to the number of
insurance claims in dispute, including bogus claims, Merlin
said, ''but what about all the legitimate problems you don't
know about? I'm telling you, I don't perceive that there's a
2004 hurricane season turned Florida into a magnet for
public adjusters, private contractors who settle claims on
behalf of the homeowner instead of working for an insurance
company. The number of registered public adjusters in the
state rose from 400 to more than 2,500, said Raymond
Altieri, past president of the Florida Association of Public
2006 left those adjusters idle, an environment Citizens
blames for the number of storm victims now challenging their
some serious problems,'' concurred Altieri, who said his
association has pushed for tighter state regulation of
public adjusters, to separate professionals from
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, raised his own concerns with
Citizens' practice of hiring adjusters from competing
insurance companies cutting back their business in Florida,
especially Allstate. They are paid a percentage of every
claim they settle on Citizens' behalf.
''I am sure
Allstate doesn't think it is making money,'' Hutchens said
in defense of the practice.
in the business of losing money,'' Fasano retorted.