A task force examining how Citizens
Property Insurance is handling unresolved claims from the 2004 and
2005 storms got an earful from frustrated policyholders with
still-open claims and unrepaired homes.
Some policyholders like Catherine Craig
have spent their savings on making partial repairs to their
storm-damaged homes while haggling with adjusters from Citizens, the
state-run insurance company.
Many have tried mediation with the
hope of closing a claim, but ended up with no resolution. Many have
hired public adjusters and attorneys to help them expedite their
Yet, Craig, whose Jupiter home was
damaged by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 and then again by Wilma the
following year, still cooks dinner for her three children in a
kitchen with a makeshift sink and what should be a built-in oven
propped on a counter.
''Citizens, shame on you. This is the
game you're playing -- delay, delay, delay,'' said Craig as she
addressed the task force which includes Tim Loftin, Citizens' vice
president for claims.
Others like Paul Morales, whose
mobile home was wiped out by Wilma, complained that Citizens lost
documentation, including photos of his damaged house, that he sent
in many times.
The overwhelming problem, based on
the testimony provided by more than a dozen homeowners who came to
Nova Southeastern University Tuesday afternoon, was poorly trained
''Adjusters are uneducated and don't
know what they are doing,'' said Lyn Thomason, a homeowner in Shady
Banks who has dealt with six adjusters from Citizens so far.
Every time she has tried to reopen
her claim, the company has told her it was closed.
''It's a waste of money how claims
are handled,'' she added.
This task force -- which includes Bob
Milligan, Florida's insurance consumer advocate, and was created by
the insurance reform bill passed in January -- is holding several
meetings around the state to hear from homeowners on how Citizens is
working to resolve open claims from the eight storms that hit the
state in a two-year period.
The task force is expected to begin
drafting recommendations on how to speed up these negotiations in
the next week.
Rep. Julio Robaina of Miami, another
task force member, noted that problems with adjusters seemed to be
to settle claims in mediation, which
gets costly quickly as homeowners hire lawyers and file lawsuits
Citizens told the task force that it
has 3,510 unresolved storm claims.
But since homeowners are allowed to
reopen a claim if they find further damage or if Citizens hasn't
paid a sufficient amount to cover all repairs, the number of claims
not fully resolved could be considerable, said Heather Carruthers,
an advocate with FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe) and a task
Homeowners are frustrated ''because
they can't get a straight answer when they contact Citizens,'' said
Paul Berger, a Boca Raton attorney who has represented various
Citizens policyholders and who filed a class-action lawsuit against
Berger said he has seen cases where
Citizens has been working with outdated price lists, so settlement
offers from the insurer are well below current prices for building
materials and labor.
Mark Pritchett, executive vice
president for the Collins Center, which is handling mediation
between insurers and homeowners, said he noticed a spike in the
number of claims that Citizens was unable to resolve through this
negotiation process since last June.
He said between 50 percent and 60
percent of Citizens claims were at an ''impasse'' after mediation.
That was about double the impasse rate he has been seeing for other
major home insurers still working on closing storm claims.
However, Pritchett, who tracks the
progress and the results of the mediations for the Department of
Financial Services, did note that since last week Citizens has
become more successful on negotiating settlements on claims via
mediation -- a service the state is providing homeowners at no cost.