Lloyd’s of London

Hurricane Michael policyholders, public adjusters, contractors and agents must check their policies to make certain that there is not a one-year deadline to start arbitration. The above photo is Lloyds at London. Lloyds is a place where surplus lines insurers do business and it is not an insurance company. Many of the Lloyds Underwriters have placed obscure arbitration provisions into their policies which mandate that New York law with a one-year limitation to start the arbitration.
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From left to right, JL Evans, Donice Krueger, Chip Merlin, Ron Delo, James and Rene Howard

Hurricane Michael insurance claims continue to take up a lot of time with Merlin Law Group attorneys. The photograph above is from dinner last night in Panama City, Florida, where the issues and problems of getting insurance claims resolved fully were the hot topic of discussion. Hurricane Michael has a lot of slow and low paying claims where insurers are wrongfully reporting to the Office of Insurance Regulation that the claim is administratively “closed” when it is anything other than being over from the policyholder’s view.
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The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation recently released updated data on July 26, 2019, from Hurricane Michael.1 A review of the available data shows the damage for the Florida panhandle. Since my prior blog post, the damage in the Florida panhandle from Michael has continued to grow. Over one hundred and forty-eight thousand claims have been filed (148,347) totaling estimated insured losses at almost seven billion dollars ($6,906,918,311). These numbers come from the insurers directly reporting to the FOIR.
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The Tampa Bay Times ran an excellent story, Hurricane Michael Destroyed Their Homes Then The Insurance Heartache Began, which tells a sad but familiar theme about insurance company denials and delayed payments following hurricane losses. I was quoted in the piece:

Chip Merlin, a Tampa insurance lawyer, said the same conflict happened in the last 15 years after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike. He said companies try to avoid making payment even when a slab is all that’s left of a property, as is the case in much of Mexico Beach.

‘Typically you have the strongest wind speeds come first, and then the storm surge follows it,’ Merlin said. Both cause damage. But residents and their attorneys, he said, may need to pay meteorologists and engineers to prove that flood and wind are to blame, and how much.
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Hurricane Michael has left a familiar mark on the Florida Panhandle. Much like Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, Hurricane Michael brought devasting winds followed by wind and flooding and more wind. Battered homes and businesses are assessed in the aftermath in an attempt to determine the extent and cause of damage resulting from the multiple perils associated with a hurricane. This has proven to be no easy task after a major hurricane.
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It has been almost eight months since Hurricane Michael devastated the eastern side of the Florida Panhandle. Not surprisingly, many residents and business owners are exhausted. Exhausted in the deepest sense—exhausted from waiting, exhausted from hoping, exhausted from failed promises made by their insurer, which benefited from premiums faithfully paid, only to find out that their insurer has “exhausted” its obligation to them. What is the recourse for the insured who has purchased insurance coverage to protect against a catastrophe such as Hurricane Michael? Will an insured be indemnified under its contract of insurance, including recovery of the costs and expense to pursue the benefits of the policy in court if necessary?
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Jeff Carter, Charlan Stephenson, & Chip Merlin

Merlin Law Group’s Panama City based attorney Jeff Carter and his paralegal assistant, Charlan Stephenson, talked with me about the current state of affairs in the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Michael before I left Panama City last night. Every storm leaves its own unique stories and lessons. I seemed to keep running into long-time storm and adjusting professionals on this trip as well as numerous friends from my high school days in Panama City. So, there were many discussions with others which added to my perceptions as well.
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A relatively inexperienced attorney from another law firm asked in an open forum whether a Category 5 hurricane mandates that no hurricane deductible can be applied and if Hurricane Michael policyholders can get a return of their hurricane deductible. Corey Harris has been involved in hurricane work with our firm since 2005. He quickly replied that the deductible is going to be returned only if the Easter Bunny is bringing a present.
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A public adjuster alerted me to a Hurricane Michael policyholder being “shaken down” by a third party who allegedly purchased an AOB from an unlicensed contractor. What makes it worse is that the policyholder is being confronted by the third party and a person holding himself out to be an attorney.
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Gerald Herbert / AP

The Washinton Post published a story, Survivors of Hurricane Michael In The Florida Panhandle Fear They Have Been Forgotten. The story is excellent, and it is obvious that the reporter, Joel Achenbach, was at the scene early after the catastrophe because he noted the “towering” debris stored along the roadways. It is always amazing to me after major hurricanes how there are canyons of piled up debris over ten to fifteen feet on both sides of roads in some devastated neighborhoods. This occurred in Panama City, Florida, as well following Michael.
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