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

Volume 2, Number 44, October 31, 2005 

One of the greatest heroines of the civil rights movement – Rosa Parks – passed away peacefully last Monday at the age of 92.

Many of us recall the event that served as the catalyst for change in race relations in America and introduced Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the world.  Ms. Parks’ simple act of courage helped change the hearts and minds of so many.

Her unassuming spirit and strength exemplified how one person, who remained true to her convictions, changed the course of a nation.  Even in death, “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” again makes history as the first woman to lie in honor in the rotunda of our nation’s capitol. 

As we reflect on the progress of the past 50 years, the courage and willingness of Mrs. Rosa Parks to stand up for justice will not be forgotten.

                                    -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER DEPLOYS MOBILE ASSISTANCE UNITS FOR FLORIDIANS IMPACTED BY WILMA

Announcement follows fly-over with Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, has deployed mobile assistance units to both Southeast  and Southwest Florida to help hurricane victims begin the recovery process.  The mobile units are staffed with the Department of Financial Services’ consumer specialists who can help affected Floridians reach their insurance companies, start the claims process, and understand what steps they should take.

“So many Floridians were impacted because of the wide path of destruction caused by Wilma, and we are here to help,” said Gallagher, who was on-hand for the opening of the mobile response unit in Plantation.  “My goal is to make sure no one takes advantage of storm victims and that insurance claims are paid quickly.   I’m encouraging Floridians to be patient as officials work to restore power and distribute critical items such as food, ice and water.”   

In Broward County, the mobile response unit is now open for operation at
6901 West Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation, across the street from Plantation High School.  In Collier County, the response unit is set up in the Wal-Mart parking lot at 3451 Tamiami Trail East in Naples.

Available on the mobile units are cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to help victims contact their insurance companies, file claims, get answers to questions they may have about their policies, and verify licensure of adjusters.  The mobile assistance unit hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Consumers can also call the department’s storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM for assistance.  The hotline is available Monday through Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Gallagher said that the department has already received nearly 200 calls from storm victims.

Gallagher, who as Florida’s state fire marshal oversees search and rescue functions when the state’s Emergency Operations Center is activated, said search and rescue operations – which involved more than 300 officers from various state agencies – are concluding.

Gallagher further advised affected Floridians to take the following actions immediately following the storm: 

•  Make emergency repairs to protect from further damage, document the damage and repairs in writing, and with receipts and photos.

•  Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation, including photos.  This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.

•  Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses. Hire licensed and reputable service people.

•  If considering the assistance of a public insurance adjuster, verify that the adjuster is licensed by calling the department’s toll-free storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.

•  Be sure you understand how much a public insurance adjuster is charging and what services are included before signing any contract.

A consumer who is approached by an unlicensed agent or adjuster or has been the victim of an insurance fraud scam can also file a complaint online on the department's web page or by calling the storm hotline. 


GALLAGHER EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RATE CUT

Recommended Decrease Will Save Employers $445 Million
 
TALLAHASSEE – Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, today expressed support for Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty’s rejection of the National Council on Compensation Insurance’s (NCCI) rate decrease request of  7.2 percent on workers’ compensation rates in favor of a larger decrease.  McCarty is recommending a statewide average decrease of 13.5 percent.
 
“Lowering rates and cutting costs will save Florida’s small-businesses an estimated $445 million that can be used to create new jobs and grow our economy,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Florida Department of Financial Services.
 
Last month, Gallagher called for an independent rate review of NCCI’s rates. The review confirmed that rates proposed by NCCI did not adequately account for projected losses, earnings and medical costs for workers’ compensation insurance companies.  
 
Gallagher also acknowledged McCarty’s recognition that this year’s decrease is due, in large part, to improved compliance and a reduction in fraud.  Gallagher oversees the department’s divisions of Insurance Fraud and Workers Compensation.
 
“We have aggressively fought to combat workers’ compensation fraud, and doubled the number of fraud arrests in just one year,” Gallagher said.   “Our compliance efforts have also added over $52 million in evaded premium to our state’s workers compensation system and ensured that nearly 21,000 employees have coverage.”
          
This year's decrease will be the third consecutive drop in rates.  Once approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation, the cumulative drop in overall rates since 2003 will total 32.6 percent.
 

COMMITTEE TO SIMPLIFY HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE POLICIES FOR FLORIDIANS MET OCTOBER 28

The Standard Personal Lines Advisory Committee held its second meeting Friday, October 28th, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.  The committee met in Room 110 of the Senate Office Building from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.   

During this meeting, Tom Terfinko, assistant director of the Division of Consumer Services in the Florida Department of Financial Services, addressed the committee and provided examples of coverage issues that consumers found to be confusing during the 2004 hurricane season.  

Guy Marvin, president of the Florida Insurance Council,  addressed the committee regarding the industries' concerns with the prospect of a mandatory standardized homeowners contract and offered other suggestions on how the committee may reach its mission.  
CONTINUED

Richard Koon, senior management analyst of the Office of Insurance Regulation, Property and Casualty Product Review, provided an in-depth overview of each section of the homeowners contract along with the applicable endorsements.   

The committee has an interesting and involved task ahead of it. 

State lawmakers called for the committee in response to Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher’s concern that many victims of the 2004 hurricanes were not adequately protected because they either did not understand the complex language in their insurance policies or had not updated their policy limits to keep pace with increasing property values.  The committee is tasked with developing proposals to simplify howmeowners policies and forwarding the recommendations to legislative leaders in January.

Members of Standard Personal Lines Advisory Committee 

CHAIR

•Rick Mahler, Deputy Chief of Staff, Department of Financial Services

MEMBERS

•Joel P. Curran – Towerhill Insurance Group, chief underwriting officer and senior manager.
•Jim Graganella – Capital Preferred & Southern Fidelity Insurance Companies. President / CEO.
•Hector Fortun, Fortun Insurance.  
•Bruce A. Baker, USI Insurance Services of Florida, Inc.   
•Rick Suarez, Miami, Florida, proprietor of Ready Windows. •Arnold Whisenant, Jacksonville, Florida, retired.  
•Dr. Elizabeth Beard Goldsmith, Florida State University, Professor.  National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s Consumer Representative.
•Richard C. Koon, Office of Insurance Regulation, Senior Management Analyst, Director Policy Forms.
•Steve Burgess, Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate.


GALLAGHER ISSUES EMERGENCY RULE CAPPING PUBLIC ADJUSTER FEES TO PROTECT STORM VICTIMS

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher has issued an emergency rule to protect victims of Hurricane Wilma by capping public adjuster fees at 10 percent of claim payment and giving consumers up to 14 days to rescind a contract with a public adjuster without penalty. The emergency rule also prohibits public adjusters from demanding or accepting any type of compensation prior to the settlement of the claim.

"South Floridians have experienced some serious damage, and we are going to do all we can to further protect them during the recovery period," Gallagher said.  Gallagher oversees the Department of Financial Services and has activated a storm hotline, 1-800-22-STORM (1-800-227-8676), to help storm victims with questions or complaints they may have with filing an insurance claim. 

Gallagher imposed the same cap on fees and prohibition on up-front payments during last year’s four storms in response to reports that some public adjusters were demanding fees of as much as 25 percent of claim payment.

Gallagher also warned consumers to make sure they are dealing with a licensed public adjuster.  Last year, detectives with the department’s Division of Insurance Fraud arrested seven individuals acting as public adjusters without licenses.

Consumers can call the storm hotline or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com to verify licensure of any adjuster.

Public adjusters are not affiliated with any insurance company and are hired by the consumer for a fee.  Independent and company adjusters work for insurance companies and do not charge fees to consumers.
 


ARREST MADE IN USF DORM FIRES

TAMPA – A suspect was arrested today in connection with several fires that were set inside a University of South Florida dormitory last Friday.
 
Detectives from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, said that Justin Graffeo, an 18-year-old university student, admitted to setting the fires in the Cypress B dormitory.  The dormitory is located at 4202 E. Fowler Ave, Tampa. Damage is estimated at $1,500.
 
“As a parent, it is disheartening to see a young person commit these criminal acts and put the lives of other students at risk,” said Tom Gallagher, Florida’s state fire marshal.  “However, he will have to pay the consequences for his actions.”
 
Graffeo admitted to setting a total of eight fires throughout the five floors of the occupied dormitory.  He is charged with one count of first-degree arson, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in state prison.  He was arrested and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail.
 
The arrest concluded a weeklong investigation by the University of South Florida Police Department and State Fire Marshal’s Office.
 
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is a law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about this case or any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).
 


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