Thursday night was an impressive start for the kick-off meeting of Florida policyholders voicing concerns about their improperly handled property damage claims.

Florida’s Consumer Advocate, Robin Westcott, and the Director of Consumer Services, Tasha Carter, held the first of a series of statewide consumer forums this week. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, 2013 in Tampa.

Both Westcott and Carter took hard hitting questions and desperate pleas from policyholders on Thursday. During the two hour meeting, all the policyholders who filled out a speaker card had a chance to tell their story of improperly handled claims. Nightmare claims stories were prevalent:

  • • an arson investigation on a woman who almost perished trying to put out her kitchen fire.
  • • a couple evacuated by the fire department because of a catastrophic ground cover collapse sinkhole were forced to live back in their partially repaired home after the insurance company abandoned repairs. The rationale for stopping coverage: the “wrong” entity condemned the house
  • • a policyholder forced into improperly paying for a forced place policy and homeowners policy because of the failure of the carrier to notify the mortgage company of her insurance. Not only did this insured pay for two insurance policies, she is now tagged as a force place insured, and her claim for theft of her AC unit was denied by her insurance company.

Westcott and Carter explained what their offices were doing and what they planned on doing to help Floridians. It was clear from the discussion that policyholders felt their insurance companies were too focused on premiums and rates and failed to keep their end of the bargains when payments were owed. The audience learned the Office of Insurance Regulation can do a market conduct review, order fines against an insurance company, and pull an insurance company’s license to do business. With all this “power,” the obvious question was why the Office seemed to take no action. Westcott explained the organizational structure at the Department separates offices for consumer services from those that regulate insurance companies. Westcott acknowledged there is a communication disconnect between the consumer services division and insurance regulation office, and that it needs to be mended.

Westscott acknowledged the property insurance claim consumer helpline is not very well known but still encouraged the audience to use the helpline and to forward their claim information to the Division of Consumer Services. Here is a direct link to the complaint form. The catalyst to organizing the eight meetings around the state was complaints from claims denied by Universal Property & Casualty Insurance. Check out the news article featuring Westcott from last November and the blog that followed.

Not surprisingly, Universal was in the news again this week for abusive claims handling practices.

It is unknown if Universal representatives were in the audience on Thursday, but one self-identified insurance adjuster tried to defend certain claims practices. Also, likely worried about what would be said about its practices, Citizens sent a representative who spoke about fraud. In essence, Citizens said public adjusters and policyholder attorneys are to blame for its failures to adjust and pay claims properly. Westcott did not agree with this statement and specifically validated the work of public insurance adjusters.

The best way for insurance professionals who disagree with Citizens to voice their responses is to ask clients to attend these meetings and explain their experiences. Join us at the next meeting on Tuesday, March 26, 2012.