April 13, 2023

Florida Insurers Accused of Altering Hurricane Ian Damage Estimates

The insurance industry in Florida is poised for punishment – be it civil or criminal – as a result of the improper handling of countless Hurricane Ian claims.  Ian caused $115 billion in damage, the second-largest insured loss on record after Hurricane Katrina, according to a report from reinsurer Swiss Re.  Hurricane Ian had the most insurance claims of any hurricane in American History.  What’s more, 4,700 complaints (and counting) have been filed against insurers post-Hurricane Ian.  

What precipitated these complaints?  Some policyholders had their valid property damage claims cut by more than 80%, according to a blistering report by The Washington Post.  These homeowners say that they had received only a small portion of what was covered under their policy.  Other property owners reported seeing altered and manipulated estimates.  In the report, it was uncovered that desk adjusters or supervisors were gutting or rejecting reports of what they saw was credible damage.  There are allegations insurance companies falsely updated claims to reduce payments. 

All of this follows the decision by Governor Ron DeSantis to take away the right of policyholders to recover their attorney’s fees when they are forced to litigate their claims.  This is the case even in claims where the insurance company deliberately withheld benefits, and loses at trial. Florida lawmakers most notably repealed the one-way attorney’s fee provision that has long governed property insurance lawsuits within the state. This provision gave insureds the necessary leverage to fairly engage in disputes with their insurers.

Previously, the insurance company would be held responsible for paying attorney fees if the company wrongfully denied your claim. Under this new law, insurers will no longer be ordered to pay attorney fees even if they improperly denied the claim.

You Need a Property Damage Lawyer to Fight for Your Rights to Coverage

At Corless Law Group we relentlessly fight for the rights of property owners and successfully resolve storm damage insurance claims.  Increased scrutiny and oversight of insurance companies who engage in these duplicitous practices, which harm insurance consumers, is the right path forward.  Insurers who don’t properly handle policyholders’ claims should be slapped with civil or criminal penalties. 

An insurer slashing a valid claim estimate without a factual basis is potential fraud.  Denying, delaying or underpaying a valid claim is bad faith and if the insurance company engaged in this type of prohibited behavior on a consistent basis, it may be grounds for punitive damages and monetary fines.  Additionally, criminal charges could be filed against insurance companies’ officials.

Insurance companies are to blame for the property insurance crisis in Florida due to their failure to expeditiously pay valid claims.  The American Policyholder Association, a nonprofit insurance industry watchdog group, said in a statement that it has found “compelling evidence of what appears to be multiple instances of systematic criminal fraud perpetrated to cheat policyholders out of fair insurance claims.”

It is inappropriate and untenable for Florida lawmakers to continue to protect the insurance industry.  In 2022, Florida Republicans passed laws that insulate property insurers at the expense of homeowners.  If you give insurance companies enough rope, will they hang themselves?  That seems to be the case here as numerous complaints allege that insurance companies or their adjusters doctored claims to underpay property owners who experienced hurricane-related damage. 

Can Insurers Be Held Accountable? 

A bill (SPB 7052) titled “Insurer Accountability” is intended to impose penalties on any insurance companies committing fraud.  It would also prohibit altering insurance adjuster reports.  The bill aims to crack down on fraud and comes with large fine amounts to insurers. 

Accountability is a nice word but does it have teeth?  This bill would increase information-reporting requirements and increase maximum fines for violations by 250% generally and 500% for violations during state emergencies.  Insurance and adjuster licenses can also be suspended or revoked.

For policyholders who experience property damage or property loss stemming from a storm, the nationally recognized litigation law firm of Corless Law Group can assist you in achieving full and fair compensation.  Our clients include individual property owners, business owners, Community Managed Associations, Homeowners Associations, and Licensed Community Association Managers.  We represent residential and commercial property owners throughout the state of Florida.  

It is important to consider how a law firm has handled other cases that are similarly situated to yours, and the type of results their lawyers can deliver.  Corless Law Group has the experience, knowledge, and record-setting results you need to repair or replace damage to your home, business or property.  Call 813-258-4998 for a free consultation.   

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