Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 41, October 11, 2004     

Sadly, thousands of our fellow Floridians have not been able to rest easy because their homes have been destroyed or damaged and they are trying to rebuild.  For storm victims who have been trying to work with their insurance company to get repairs started but feel they have not been treated fairly or compensated properly, I want you to know help is on the way.

I have created a new mediation program to give storm victims a way to fairly and quickly resolve claim disputes with their insurance company.

Any homeowner with a claim can participate in this program at no cost to them. For instance, mediation can help homeowners work out a settlement if a contractor quote varies from an insurance company damage estimate, or help decide whether a flood policy or a wind policy covers the damage.

We will have four mediation centers set up – the first one to open in Charlotte County followed by centers opening just south of Orlando, in Ft. Pierce and in Pensacola.

To schedule a mediation meeting call us at 1-800-22-STORM.

My best,

                        -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER CREATES MEDIATION PROGRAM FOR STORM VICTIMS TO RESOLVE INSURANCE DISPUTES

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced the creation of a mediation program to give storm victims, at no charge to them, a way to quickly and fairly resolve claim disputes with their insurance company. 

“So many Floridians are hurting and struggling to start over.  My goal is to help them do that by getting their insurance claims resolved,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services.

The mediation program, created by emergency rule, establishes a dispute resolution process for citizens who need help with resolving hurricane claims prior to pursuing other options such as going to court. Mediation meetings will be scheduled and facilitated by court-certified mediators provided through the Collins Center for Public Policy. 

Under the emergency rule, once a policyholder disputes a claim settlement offer, the insurance company is required to notify the policyholder of his or her right to mediation. Policyholders can also contact their insurance company and let them know they want mediation. The insurance company will then have 21 days to resolve the claim before mediation may be requested by the policyholder. 

According to Gallagher, who was Insurance Commissioner when Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead in 1992, more than eighty percent of claims referred to mediation reach settlement, and more than 90 percent reach partial settlement.

At least four mediation centers will be set up in hurricane-hit communities around the state, with the first one soon opening in Charlotte County.

Storm victims can learn more about mediation services by logging on to the department’s website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com and downloading the “Mediation Program” brochure or by calling the hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.


MEMORIAL SERVICE HONORS MIAMI-DADE COUNTY FIREFIGHTER WHO DIED LAST YEAR IN THE LINE OF DUTY

This year’s annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service, held at the State Fire College in Ocala, honored a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue firefighter who died last year in the line of duty. 

Wayne Mitchell, 37, was overcome by heat during a simulated shipboard fire training at the Resolve Marine Fire School in Port Everglades, and died while in transit to the hospital. 

“His death, and the 126 others who have been memorialized, will not be forgotten and will not be in vain,” said Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher.  “We study every line-of-duty death to determine how we can help firefighters avoid unnecessary risks in a job that is already inherently dangerous.  I know I speak for all Floridians when I say that we are deeply grateful to these men and woman for answering the call to serve and to their families for supporting them.” 

Mitchell’s name will be added to the Florida Fallen Firefighter Memorial, located at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala.  The memorial includes the names of firefighters who died while on duty as far back as 1885.  His name also will be added to the Fallen Firefighter Wall of Honor that Gallagher unveiled the design for earlier this year.  The Wall of Honor, expected to go up next year, will be in Tallahassee in the Capitol.

The memorial service was hosted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Florida Joint Council of Fire and Emergency Service Organizations and concludes Fire Prevention Week.

 


GALLAGHER URGES HOMEOWNERS TO DO HOMEWORK, READ FINE PRINT BEFORE SIGNING HOME REPAIR CONTRACT
As many homeowners across the state are rebuilding their homes, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is alerting consumers to be wary of entering into contracts for repairs too quickly before they understand clearly what their obligations are regarding monthly payments and interest rates.  Consumers may be offered a contract in which they agree to make monthly payments for the home repairs and, in some cases, a mortgage may be placed against the property as security.

Before you sign a home repair contract, check out the company by calling the following numbers. 

Contact the Department of Business and Professional Regulation at 1-850-487-1395 to determine if the contractor is properly licensed and if there are any complaints filed against the contractor.

Contact the Office of Financial Regulation, Department of Financial Services, at 1-800-342-2762 to determine if the home improvement company is properly licensed to enter into an installment contract and if there are any complaints filed against the company.

The following are important reminders for homeowners to remember when entering a contract for home repairs: 

YOU are entitled to a copy of the contract at the time that you sign it.

YOU must keep a copy of your contract to protect your legal rights.

YOU must never sign the contract in blank – Write N/A on any blank line.

YOU are responsible for payments on your home improvement contract where a mortgage is being used as the security.  Failure to make your payments may result in foreclosure of your property.  

YOUR contract must include the name of the home improvement finance seller.

Homeowners also should know:

YOUR contract must be signed by the homeowner and contractor.

YOUR contract must include a notice of the right to rescind the contract within 3 business days.

YOUR contract must include the approximate dates the work will begin and end.

YOUR contract must include the amount financed, down payment amount and any difference between those two.

YOUR contract must detail the insurance coverage and benefits (if purchased), official fees, survey and permit charges.

YOUR contract must include the premiums paid for group credit life or other insurance, and should state which party is to procure the insurance (if purchased).

YOUR contract should not have a provision for a power of attorney.

Upon completion of the repairs, the homeowner and contractor must sign a certificate stating all work has been completed.  CAUTION:  Do not sign a certificate unless all work has been performed.  Ask your contractor to furnish a release of liens against the property.  Keep a copy of the completion certificate and lien release to protect your rights.

Depending on the length and terms of your home improvement contract, finance charges can be as high as 22% APR.  You may want to contact FEMA’s disaster assistance program at 1-800-621-3362 for lower interest rates.

For more information on how to protect your hard-earned dollars, log on to www.yourmoneyyourlife.com.  Consumers can also contact the Florida Department of Financial Services' helpline toll-free at 1-800-342-2762.



Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.