Florida families facing delays, disputes for Hurricane Ian repairs look to consumer watchdog

Florida families are still battling with insurance companies over Hurricane Ian claims, 10 months ago. A consumer watchdog and Superstorm Sandy survivor has advice.

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - In Punta Gorda, Hurricane Ian damaged Michelle Bennett’s roof and soaked her floors and walls. Mold still took off, and insurance denied her claim for mold damage on grounds that she should have done more to prevent it. 

"I put a tarp on it within a week and a dehumidifier to prevent mold," she said. "How was I neglectful?"

Bennett said her insurer told her this wasn’t the end of her case, and requested she send a letter providing more information. 

Meanwhile, in Englewood, Elizabeth and Gary LaFlamme’s home had $1 million of insurance coverage and still has a busted roof. 

They say they did not receive funds to replace it, because they have a $9,000 deductible and their insurer said they could get the roof patched. The LaFlamme's say the tiles would not match, because the company that made these tiles went out of business years ago. 

"They’re holding us hostage, because if we don’t fix our roof, we can’t go to another insurance company," Gary LaFlamme said. 

Nearly 10 months after Hurricane Ian, many other families also still can’t get their homes repaired due to a combination of delays and disputes. 

State lawmakers responded with an accountability law. It steps up fines and enforcement for insurers that violate state codes, but consumer advocates say we still need more oversight and transparency.

Doug Quinn is a consumer watchdog who knows what they’re going through. 

"Despite having $250k in flood insurance it took us seven years to rebuild our home," he said. 

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy swamped his home in New Jersey and cracked the foundation. His insurance said that wasn’t from the movement of water but rather the movement of soil. 

"Fundamental shifting of the supporting soils, therefore exclusion of coverage," Quinn said. "Movement of earth is excluded from insurance coverage, so they denied a majority of my claim. They paid me around 37 cents on the dollar."

He sued and eventually settled for another $130,000 and now leads the non-profit American Policyholder Association, which promotes integrity and best practices in insurance. 

Consumer watchdog explains delays

Quinn cites three problems. The first relates to process. High turnover during disasters can drive excessive delays.

"And then you call back the next day, and they’re gone, and you’re with somebody who is starting from scratch," Quinn noted. 

After disasters, many companies rely on vendors who compete for third-party contracts with the insurers. Quinn said that has potential to raise issues with some. 

"And they have this check writer bias. They’re trying to give the insurance company what they think they want which is to suppress the amount of money lost in claims," he said. 

He said that may explain how some adjusters say their damage estimates were reduced. 

"Somewhere the adjuster fills out the report, he sends it up the line and somebody along those lines is taking that report and removing line-items," he said. 

Quinn’s second and third problems relate to executive bonuses and what some now defunct insurance companies paid their sister companies as they failed.