Volume 1, Number 36
September 6, 2004










TEXT VERSION


Floridians have just experienced a one-two punch from Mother  Nature but even a second storm has not battered the resilient spirit of many residents. 

In the wake of a second storm, our Department of Financial Services stands ready to assist storm victims in need of help with their insurance companies and/or adjusters.

I have also dispatched our mobile response unit to the following location: Furniture Mart Shopping Center (Old Ft. Pierce Outlet Mall) at 2817 Peters Rd. in Ft. Pierce. The site is accessible from Exit 152, Okeechobee Rd., of the Florida Turnpike or Exit 129 of I-95. Onsite communications will allow staff to assist victims immediately.

Co-locating at the site are representatives from the following insurance companies: Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Allstate, American Strategic, Florida Select, Metropolitan Property and Casualty, State Farm, First Floridian and Nationwide.

We are also continuing to assist consumers in Charlotte County.

Hurricane Ivan is traveling across the Caribbean and should be monitored for its potential impact to Florida. It is too soon to tell what Ivan's path will be, but I encourage residents to replenish supplies in preparation. If your house is boarded up, we advise that you leave it covered until the threat of Ivan is gone.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by these disasters.

Our September skyline is Charlotte Harbor looking toward Punta Gorda before Hurricane Charley.


  FOLLOWING TOURS OF AFFECTED AREAS, GALLAGHER DEPLOYS MOBILE RESPONSE UNIT

TALLAHASSEE-After touring many of the areas affected by Hurricane Frances, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has deployed the Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Response Unit to assist Floridians in filing insurance claims and quickly resolving insurance problems.

“We’ve taken another hit, but Floridians are incredibly resilient,” said Gallagher, who has traveled with Governor Jeb Bush over the past two days to get a firsthand look at damage caused by Frances. “Local and national support organizations, including the Red Cross and FEMA, are coming together to ensure food, water and shelter are immediately available. It’s now my job to make sure insurance claims are paid quickly and that no one takes advantage of storm victims.”  CONTINUED
 

 

 

 

GALLAGHER WILL IMPOSE EMERGENCY RULES FOR ADJUSTERS IN  HURRICANE FRANCES’ AFTERMATH

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is implementing emergency rules to protect victims of Hurricane Frances from unreasonable public adjuster fees, similar to emergency rules he imposed for victims of Hurricane Charley.

Gallagher will cap public adjuster fees at 10 percent of claim payment, prohibit any up-front payment and give consumers up to 14 days to back out of a contract without penalty. Citing concerns that storm victims could be targets for fraud, Gallagher also said he would add to the rules that any contracts that are redacted in any way after they are signed will be unenforceable.

“By limiting fees, it’s our hope that homeowners and business owners dealing with the aftermath of the storm know what to expect and aren’t scammed and gouged financially by public adjusters inflating their fees,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services and served as Florida’s insurance commissioner when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. CONTINUED
 

 

 

CFO Gallagher's Letter to the Florida Building Commission

 

GALLAGHER TO FLORIDA BUILDING COMMISSION: DON’T WEAKEN STATE BUILDING CODE

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today announced that he is urging the Florida Building Commission not to weaken Florida’ building code, a proposal currently under consideration.  According to Gallagher, weakening the current code could be devastating in terms of property loss, especially for construction in interior counties.

“It would be a mistake to downgrade Florida’s building code.  Our recent experience with Hurricane Charley has demonstrated the substantial vulnerability of all our counties to hurricane winds,” Gallagher said. CONTINUED


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GALLAGHER ADVISES STORM VICTIMS: MAKE SURE YOUR BUILDING CONTRACTOR IS COVERED BY WORKERS’ COMP

Property owners hiring uninsured contractors face financial risk

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today advised Floridians coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, and now Frances, to verify that repairs to their home and property are being conducted by licensed contractors covered by workers’ compensation insurance, or who have a valid exemption. 

“Understandably, storm victims want repairs to be completed as soon as possible.  But, if you hire an uninsured contractor and an accident occurs, you could end up footing the bill for injuries to the contractor or employees,” Gallagher said.  “Ask for proof of coverage and call our hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM to verify coverage.”  CONTINUED


 


Hurricane Ivan is in the Caribbean and should be watched. It is too far away to forecast whether it will impact Florida. This National Hurricane Center graphic is a three-day forecast of the possible path from the 11 a.m. advisory on 9-7-04. Find the latest advisory at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ .

CONSUMER TIPS FOR HURRICANE IVAN

The Florida Department of Financial Services is mobilized to assist with insurance and banking questions and concerns.  Residents should call our toll-free hotline at 800-22-STORM.   The department has already assisted more than 17,000 Floridians coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, and many more after Frances.

Safeguard important documents such as your insurance policy information, company contact numbers, and mortgage documents and take them with you in the event of evacuation. 

Have plenty of cash on hand since access to ATMs, debit cards and credit cards will be limited in the event of power outages.

Protect windows.  If you need to protect your windows, get plywood panels 5/8” thick.  Where plywood is scarce, a second option is oriented strand board.  If you have to prioritize which windows to protect, cover larger ones first, like bay or picture windows.  Sliding glass doors are often made of tempered glass, so worry about these last.   CONTINUED


 

 

 

INSURANCE AGENT ALLEGEDLY USED FORGERY, DECEIT TO BILK CUSTOMERS OUT OF $200,000

An insurance agent who allegedly forged customers’ signatures and manipulated their trust to take out personal loans and earn fraudulent commissions may have scammed several Orange County residents out of more than $200,000, said fraud investigators with the Department of Financial Services. 

Michael Harris Lait, d.b.a. Harris Financial Services, is facing felony charges of elder exploitation, scheme to defraud, and fraudulent reporting and accounting of funds.  The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud, with assistance from the Windermere Police Department, arrested Lait on August 23.  At the same time, Lait was served with an administrative complaint from the Division of Legal Services resulting from an investigation conducted by the Division of Agent and Agency Services, Bureau of Investigation.
 “The department is committed to ensuring that those licensed to serve in the insurance industry work for the consumers’ best interests,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the department.  “Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud is urged to contact the department.” CONTINUED


 

GALLAGHER TO MORTGAGE HOLDERS: KNOW YOUR BANK’S PROCEDURE FOR PROCESSING INSURANCE CLAIM CHECKS

With thousands of Floridians filing insurance claims for damages sustained during Hurricane Charley, it’s important for storm victims holding mortgage liens to be aware of bank procedures for receiving insurance funds to make repairs.  Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is advising Floridians in disaster areas to check with their financial institutions to find out the best way to begin the rebuilding process.

“Homeowners now focused on repairing storm damage will need to work with their mortgage lender and financial institution to follow the steps necessary to ensure your home is properly repaired,” said Gallagher.  CONTINUED