Homeowners insurance company takes dozens of Southwest Floridians to court

Article Courtesy of WINK NEWS

By Andryanna Sheppard   

Published December 3, 2023


People Trust claims its customers broke their policies by repairing their own homes after Hurricane Ian. But, one homeowner’s lawyer believes the State of Florida needs to get involved.

People’s Trust sued Mary Stewart in September, 2023, nearly a year after Ian. She still lives with the damage in her Port Charlotte home and the suit centers around her trying to get her home back together.

“It’s just too much. The depression, I have to fight it every day because of the number of things coming my way,” said Stewart.

Abidemi Oladipo of the Mubarak, Sharif and Oladio Law Firm agreed to take Stewart on as a client.

“What People’s Trust is saying in the lawsuit is that because Ms. Stewart allegedly carried out some repairs in her home for damage to her home caused by Hurricane Ian that they should no longer be able or be responsible for paying any part of her claim,” Oladipo explained.

Before fighting for policyholders, he used to represent insurance companies, including People’s Trust. He told WINK News Consumer Investigator Andryanna Sheppard that the firm represents at least five homeowners People’s Trust has sued for repairing their homes with their own contractors.


“Once People’s Trust invoked their right to repair through rapid response team, that the individuals from People’s Trust would tell the homeowner that that rapid response team could not get to their repairs for a period of eight to 12 months in varying degrees from different clients,” said the lawyer.

People’s Trust told Sheppard they have an exclusive contract with a preferred contractor, Rapid Response Team or RRT. On its website, it claims to be the state’s largest insurance restoration general contractor made up of more than 200 full-time employees that operate out of 9 response centers around the state.

People’s Trust’s COO said both the insurance company and RRT are owned by the same person, President and CEO George Schaeffer. He also said the insurer received more than 12,000 Hurricane Ian claims.

“As the homeowner, you’re sitting there in your damaged home, with a tarp on your roof, trying to protect your family and your property,” said Oladipo. “If they cannot perform the repairs within a reasonable period of time, you have to question why they invoked the right to repair on so many homeowners policies.”

Sheppard brought those concerns to People’s Trust. Initially, the company said the COO Tom Gallagher would do an interview. When he called, he was hesitant to talk on the record.

“I’m doing a story on this so I wanted to give you guys the opportunity to speak on the record about what’s going on. Are you able to do an interview on the record?” Sheppard asked.

After a little back and forth, he went on the record later that same day.

People’s Trust Chief Operating Officer Tom Gallagher

  • State Insurance Commissioner from 1989 to 1995 and 2001 to 2007

  • 2008, he helped start an insurance agency

  • Government consultant for the past five years for insurance regulation and litigation law firm

  • Joined People’s Trust full-time 6 years ago.

“We don’t take pleasure suing our policyholders,” explained Gallagher. “I can tell you that a very small percentage that happens in, but we do try to get claims settled as soon as possible. And when we have people that aren’t following what the contract says, we’ve tried to encourage them to go along with us and let us fix the home.”

“Why is People’s Trust insurance company suing dozens of homeowners?” asked Sheppard.

“If our policyholders follow what the contract calls for – many times, they don’t follow it, because they’re getting bad advice by a damage consultants, loss consultants or public adjuster,” said Gallagher. “Some cases a lawyer tells them to do certain things, and not follow what the policy says. It causes them not to get their home repaired the way it should be.” “Are homeowners supposed to wait a year after Ian hit in order for their homes to be fixed” Sheppard questioned.

“We would hope not. We’d rather not,” Gallagher answered.

He feels that bad advice from others, is why People’s Trust customers end up in court.

“We have the right to repair. We don’t write checks. We repair the homes,” explained Gallagher. “And so that’s what the policy says. And that’s what we plan on doing.”

Oladipo believes the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation should do some digging.

“The question is, when will they be made whole? When would their home be restored back to its pre-loss condition?” asked Oladipo.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky told me his office is looking into it.

“That’s really what we want to mostly look at is whether or not the service is being performed is up to up to the standards that one would expect to receive from their insurer,” said Yaworksy.

As for Stewart, her family will have to live in their Hurricane Ian-damaged home until the lawsuit is resolved. She is not allowed to make any repairs.

“I don’t understand why our government allows them to do stuff like this,” she questioned. “It’s just not fair. It’s just not fair.”

Sheppard reached out to People’s Trust President and CEO George Schaeffer for comment.

A spokesperson sent a statement which read in part that People’s Trust policyholders see the preferred contractor endorsement as a “tremendous benefit, since they don’t need to scramble finding reliable contractors and service workers to complete work.” And, their “affiliate rapid response team provides a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee on workmanship.”