evaluating Citizens to hear from homeowners
brewing long after storms
Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
Published June 19, 2007
Wilma blew the roof off Tamara Clausen's Lake Worth home. Wind-driven
water rushed in, ruining four years of renovations and all her personal
belongings as well as those of her two teenagers.
By the time the adjuster got to her residence two
months later, the house was full of mold. At least, the registered nurse
thought, she had insurance from Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to cover
the full loss.
|Do you have a hurricane-claims problem
state task force examining how Citizens is handling
unresolved claims from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons
wants to hear about it. The panel will hold hearings from 2
to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Miniaci Performing
Arts Center on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in
claims from 2004 and 2005 hurricane season from the state's
two largest property insurers:
Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
• Policyholders: 1.3 million
• Total claims from hurricanes of 2004 and 2005: 303,000
• Still open or only partially resolved: 3,500
State Farm Florida Insurance Co.
• Policyholders: 1 million
• Total claims from hurricanes of 2004 and 2005: 320,000
• Still open or only partially resolved: 1,820
Sources: Citizens Property
Insurance Corp.; State Farm Florida Insurance Co.
NOTE: Totals change daily as old cases are settled and new
supplemental claims are filed.
months later, Florida's largest homeowners insurer still hasn't paid
her full claim. She has gone into debt and pays her old mortgage as
well as rent on an apartment. Her house remains vacant, the interior
gutted to its wooden studs.
Clausen and others like her will have a chance
to tell their stories at a public hearing today at Nova Southeastern
University in Davie. The forum is being held by a task force charged
with evaluating Citizens' handling of claims from the 2004 and 2005
storms — and reviewing whether Citizens is prepared to deal with a
hurricane in 2007.
Christine Turner, Citizens' director of
government affairs, said the state-sponsored insurer has resolved 98
percent of the hurricane claims from eight storms in 2004 and 2005
and is committed to resolving all legitimate claims.
On Monday, Citizens Chairman Bruce Douglas,
who reviewed the Clausen case at the request of The Palm Beach Post,
conceded the insurer had made "serious errors" in the
handling of her claim.
"The case fell through the cracks,"
he said. "I honestly and sincerely regret we failed to settle
this claim until now.''
Douglas said the insurer would have a
settlement satisfactory to Clausen by Wednesday, including money to
rebuild the home, buy new furniture and pay for her living expenses
since the storm. But he insisted that the Clausen case is an
''extreme example'' of a breakdown in Citizens' claim-handling
procedures and not typical of the company's response to claims.
Troy Norris of Lighthouse Point, in northeast
Broward County, would disagree. He said Citizens has paid $50,000 of
his $200,000 policy limit and $16,850 of the $22,650 in living
expenses he was entitled to under his policy to pay rent and other
He provided a copy of an e-mail from a
Citizens' claim representative in June 2006 that said the living
expenses due would be sent to Norris the following week. The check
never arrived, he said.
Municipal records show that the Norris house
was condemned after Wilma. Norris said that about six months after
the storm, his wife left him and moved to Texas because of the
financial and emotional stress of their unresolved claim.
Norris now fears he will lose his yet-to-be
repaired house, because he can't pay the mortgage payments as well
as rent for his temporary apartment. ''I am only a few months away
from foreclosure,'' he said.
Norris' attorney, Paul Berger of Boca Raton, is
representing 100 clients against Citizens. ''The stress is so great,"
he said. "People's lives are totally disrupted, and you have an
insurer that just doesn't care.''
Berger said he has clients who have suffered health
problems because of Citizens' refusal to pay their entire claims.
Citizens, which insures 1.3 million policyholders,
had 303,000 hurricane claims during the hurricane years, and about 3,500
are unresolved. By way of comparison, State Farm Florida Insurance Co.,
which insures about 1 million, had 320,000 claims from the hurricanes and
1,820 remain open.
Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Bob Milligan,
who chairs the state task force, said it has been hard for the group to
gauge whether Citizens dragged its feet or had legitimate reasons for not
fully paying claims. Milligan said the task force is ''leaning hard'' on
Citizens to resolve the claims.
Statistics provided by the state Department of
Financial Services show that complaints against Citizens remain high, with
709 filed between January and May of this year. The No. 2 homeowner
insurer, State Farm, had 217 complaints in the same period.
"We would expect fewer complaints,'' said Marta
Arrington, who oversees consumer complaints for the Florida Department of
Turner said she could not document how many cases
had been resolved since Citizens' officials began a review of outstanding
hurricane claims in May. She declined to comment on the Norris case,
citing ongoing litigation.
But Turner concedes that the nonprofit Citizens,
founded in 2002, has some growing to do to master the performance of more
''They had years and years of experience to do
better,'' she said. ''Our learning curve had to be steep."
She encouraged people with unresolved hurricane
claims to attend the meeting at Nova Southeastern, saying the insurer
would attempt to settle the claims on the spot.
Clausen, who plans to attend the hearing, said she
won't believe Citizens is resolving her claim until she sees a check.
Months of letter-writing and phone calls, the hiring of a lawyer and a
public adjuster — all seemed to fall on deaf ears.
She has continued to pay her $1,500 monthly mortgage
as well as $1,200 monthly rent on her two-bedroom apartment. She ran up
$25,000 in credit card bills.
Her children, Max, 17 and Julia, 20, are scheduled
to attend the University of Central Florida this fall. But the low-cost
loans Clausen was attempting to obtain from AARP to help with college
expenses were rejected because of her new credit problems.
don't know I'll ever recover financially," she said.