Floridians with residential property damage claims have a right to demand participation in the state mediation program if they have a dispute with their insurance company, but are disputes really getting resolved in these non-binding mediations? The Department of Consumer Services, a section of the Department of Financial Services, oversees this alternative dispute resolution process. This form of mediation is not to be confused with pre-trial mediation.

All claims in Florida must be mediated before trial, however the state organized DFS mediation does not count as pre-trial mediation. DFS mediation, as outlined in Florida Statute 627.7015, is available to every insured in Florida with a residential or commercial/residential property damage claim dispute. The insurance company pays for the mediation1 and while the insured must attend, the process often times does not involve lawyers for either party. In fact, the rules of the mediation process2 require certain notice if the policyholder is going to bring an attorney that can change the timing of the mediation.

Insureds in Florida are advised that they are free to tackle the claim alone or with claim/damage experts under the DFS mediation program. Many insureds might think that the process sounds good on paper but what is actually happening during these mediations does not seem to be resolution.

Both Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott and Director of Consumer Services Tasha Carter recognize the program needs improvement. Earlier this year, Ms. Westcott and Ms. Carter traveled to various cities in Florida and heard from policyholders directly about their claim disputes. Now, they have asked the Homeowners’ Insurance Bill of Rights Working Group for feedback about the mediation program.

When Ms. Carter spoke last month in the working group’s roundtable, it was clear to me she recognized the mediation program was not helping insureds in the way it was designed and that the program has flaws. Conflicts of interest were a hot topic of the discussion because the program states the mediator will be impartial but conflicts of interest were being reported to the state and the Department did not have the power under its rules to put a stop to this problem. While either party can request a mediator be replaced if there is a known or disclosed conflict of interest, the mediator needs to be forth coming with this information and it appears that this has not always been the case.

On Monday the Working Group, in our continued work on a Homeowners Bill of Rights, will address the residential mediation program and make recommendations for changes. If you are a policyholder who has used the mediation program for a residential claim, we want to hear your comments. Public Adjusters, Architects, Contractors and Engineers who have accompanied policyholders should also speak up and tell us what happens when insureds try to use this program.

The feedback policyholders and their representatives have shared with me and my colleagues about the mediation program thus far includes complaints and frustrations, summarized below:

  • The representative sent to the mediation on behalf of the insurance company was the same adjuster on my file and not a fresh set of eyes.
  • The mediation lasted less than 15 minutes and was a waste of time.3
  • The mediator did not seem to have any control, power or passion to help the situation. It was like he/she was going through the motions.
  • The mediation was really a short meeting with my insurance company and the mediator and the person from the insurance company wasn’t familiar with my claim/ didn’t have the documents I had previously submitted.
  • The insurance company came to the mediation to offer me $500 on a take it or leave it basis. No real dispute resolution was attempted.
  • The location of the mediation was not conducive to any types of negotiations. Mediations taking place in public places.
  • I waited months to get my mediation date, my wife and I both took the day off of work but the mediation was a waste of time.

Maybe the DFS mediation program has resolved cases – if the program worked for you, we would like to hear about your claim too.

Please send all feedback to Nicole Vinson or post your comment below.

Look for future blog posts on this topic coming soon.

1 The insurance company pays for the mediation unless the appointment is canceled by the insured without good cause; the insured pays in that instance.
2 69J-166.031(4)(a)3f.
3 The state’s mediation brochure says mediations can proceed as long as the parties are making process, but most end in about 2 hours.