Homeowners get lowball insurance offers for Ian damage: Is the system failing them?

Article Courtesy of WINK NEWS

By Céline McArthur

Published April 16, 2023


“Florida stepped up in times of crisis. In September, Hurricane Ian smashed into Southwest Florida and barreled across our state. It left catastrophic damage in its wake,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a March 2023 press conference.

Also in Ian’s wake—Florida’s property insurance reform. It’s creating a groundswell of fear among homeowners that lawmakers are protecting insurance companies over the public. And the average homeowner can’t afford to have that happen. WINK News Investigative Reporter Céline McArthur digs into the issues to help you better navigate the system and get your claims paid.

I’ve learned a lot about property insurance since Hurricane Ian. Industry experts have educated me on how the system works—and doesn’t work. They say insurance companies make money by collecting as much as they can in premiums and paying out as little as possible to you in claims.

And every company has its own set of internal practices that are not spelled out in your contracts, so you won’t know exactly how they operate. That makes every one of your unresolved claims uniquely unpredictable.

I introduced you to Elaine Damiano of Cape Coral in my last report. She couldn’t get her insurance carrier, Cypress Property and Casualty Insurance Company out of Jacksonville, to take a call or answer an email for months—even with a public adjuster and lawyer working for her.

“I think the more they ignore you, maybe they think you’re going to go away,” said Damiano.

She didn’t and called me instead. I tracked down the company’s executive vice president. He admitted to me Cypress dropped the ball. Elaine’s claim fell off their radar. In response, he dispatched new adjusters to review her damage — again.

I was there when the adjusters arrived. They told me they wouldn’t do the re-inspection—in fact, they’d walk off the job—if WINK News cameras were rolling.

A week later, Elaine got a settlement letter offering her another six-figure check to fix her home. Her public adjuster Scotty Moland says it is a step forward.

“It shows that, at least in part, we were correct that they were wrong on the first go,” said Moland.

“But since then, there’s been no other movement,” said attorney David Sholl. He’s offering Elaine legal advice on her claim since she said Cypress gave her half of what’s needed to rebuild to what’s called “pre-loss condition.”

“You shouldn’t trust the person who owes you money to tell you how much they owe you,” said Sholl. “You’re paying them to pay you if disaster strikes. You’re paying them to pay to put your house back together if disaster strikes. Why would you let them shortchange you?”

In the meantime, Moland says Cypress’ “ball drop” should not go unpunished.

“There are systems that should be in place, if they’re not already at each insurer, that guarantees that a claim will not be lost or forgotten,” said Moland.

It’s an issue that they all believe needs to be resolved by lawmakers in Tallahassee. In a March 17th press conference in Fort Myers, Gov. DeSantis agreed.

“I think anyone should be held accountable who is not meeting their obligations they owe to their folks,” said DeSantis. “I am open to do whatever we need to do to continue to work on the problem.”

Filing an insurance claim and fighting for every dollar shouldn’t be a high-stakes guessing game. For Paul Pernak — a firefighter working on the day Ian hit — this was a literal gut check. He gutted his home on his own. That’s where the battle with his insurance company began.

“I’m not trying to walk away with millions of dollars, I just want to get back in my home, I want my family to back in my home, my little girls to be back in their house,” said Pernak.