Insurance coverage disputes are often decided by laws and regulations made outside the insurance contract. Insurance companies have known this for years. They employ an army of lawyers and seemingly have an unending treasury to lobby for laws and regulations that favor insurance company interests.

One of my personal yearly goals has been to get some laws or regulations passed which favor policyholder interests. I have made this a "must do" goal for five years now. I would like to share with you how this started, how I have done, and my current thoughts on the matter.

Suzanne Harris is a client of mine, and she started this legislative effort along with pushing from attorney Larry Keefe in 2005. I first met Ms. Harris following Hurricane Opal. An associate attorney did something that made her forcefull Alabama voice rain down upon me. When things go well, Ms. Harris is the type of client that will do anything for you. If not, well….you just never want the "if not" to occur.

Ms. Harris is the President of the Edgewater Beach Owners Association in Destin, Florida, and is very active in the leadership of the Condominium Association Institute. Larry Keefe is her General Counsel. Three days before Hurricane Ike struck her Condominium in 2004, she had retained me based on our Hurricane Opal experience. She had her construction crew stationed and ready to go as soon as they could get to her Condominium following the hurricane. She was prepared and worked hard to recover after the disaster.

She still had some delays from Citizens Property Insurance and made the remark that I should do something about it in the legislature. Larry Keefe overheard this comment. The next thing I know, I am talking to Larry’s good friend, Jon Moyle, about his retention as a lobbyist to help me "do something" about getting laws passed to help policyholders get paid promptly and fully.

My skills as an advocate preparing cases for presentation at trial and using legal logic to win battles do not work for me in the political debates and "winning" with politicians. Frankly, I am not good enough at this very different game of politics, although I am learning.

"Lead, follow or get out of the way" is a leadership slogan that was applicable yesterday in Tallahassee. I felt like our legislative efforts to get something "consumer friendly" passed in Tallahassee needed a champion other than myself and the two lobbying firms I hired to help. I called Ms. Harris and explained how difficult it was becoming to get any legislator to listen to the problems of policyholders who have claim problems. I asked for her help.

Many of my CEO, CFO and President type clients will be contacted and asked to participate as public citizens in the future. If they are anything like Suzanne Harris, they will get their point across and talk with elected officials in a manner that evokes a sense of urgency to get laws passed that protect them from wrongful treatment by insurance companies.

For whatever reason, I learned yesterday to simply follow by supporting Ms. Harris and get out of her way. She literally got to the leaders that make laws for everybody’s benefit in a much more effective manner than I have for five years. It was the most productive day I have had in Tallahassee.

There is nothing wrong with admitting that you are not good at something and need improvement. Talking one on one with politicians is something I wish I could be better at—but for my policyholder clients whom I am trying to take a leadership position for, the best thing is to merely get them in front of their elected officials and let them speak. I can never get close to such bonding because they have lived through the misery of delayed and underpaid insurance claims. Their stories are real and so is their concern for change.

Sometimes, the best advocacy is to say nothing and the best leading is done by following. It can be humbling, but the result is what matters.

  • SHIRLEY HEFLIN

    Geez, Chip, it took you this long to realize the “power” of SUZANNE HARRIS (ha, ha) ??

    Seriously, Suzanne Harris has always been a “role model” of mine. I have also been on the receiving end of such “forceful” phone calls, however, I was just a secretary taking the messages! :)

    Too bad she’s not an “elected official” in Tallahassee (of course, she would be IF SHE WANTED TO BE)…she’s happy diligently doing all the things that she does.

    SHIRLEY HEFLIN

  • SHIRLEY HEFLIN

    Wow, Chip, after all these years…..referring to your comment above:

    “…but for my policyholder clients whom I am trying to take a leadership position for, the best thing is to merely get them in front of their elected officials and let them speak. I can never get close to such bonding because they have lived through the misery of delayed and underpaid insurance claims. Their stories are real and so is their concern for change…”

    While you may have never been a “victim” of “delayed and underpaid insurance claims,” you have certainly lived through them by osmosis of your representation of such “victims.” While it is certainly (obviously) not the same as being the actual victim, you certainly have a “taste” of what it’s like to be the “poor little policyholder dutifully paying their premiums…all for naught in their dire time of need and their claim gets denied, delayed, put through the wringer, etc.”

    SHIRLEY HEFLIN

  • Chip Merlin

    Shirley,

    Ms. Harris is a role model for many including me. I will write about that more next week.

    I appreciate your comments and wish I could have responded quicker, but I have been on the road and working pretty hard this week.