Tom Gallagher, Florida’s CEO and House Insurance Committee Chair Rep. Dennis A. Ross, R-Lakeland, listened intently to an array of hurricane-related complaints – from families with nowhere to live to homeowners with $500 swimming pool repairs — at the March 19 town hall meeting at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando.
Changes that would require companies to write ‘standard’ policies that are written in easily understood language and would be easy to compare with those written by competing companies in easily understood language will be presented soon in proposals to the Florida Legislature by Gallagher. Policies would also have to spell out the amount of coverage, deductible amounts and exactly what is covered.
Comments and feedback heard from hurricane victim’s at town hall meetings in Orlando, Sebastian, Punta Gorda and Pensacola, Fla. were used by the Department of Financial Services to determine what new provisions would be useful.
Before the Orlando town hall meetings several DFS staff members were posted outside the entrance to the high school to take a list of hurricane victims who wanted to speak at the meeting as they arrived — only 150 participants showed up. Each was assigned a number, which the CFO called out from the stage.
Gallagher and Ross listened compassionately to pleas for help from sobbing parents, holding a nine-month-old baby; and a woman caring for her children and her Alzheimer’s-inflicted mother-in-law.
“What are we were going to do at the end of the month when Federal Emergency Management Agency takes away our trailer?” Mary Sherman, whose home was destroyed by two hurricanes asked.
Gallagher heard a long list of horror stories and problems, including homeowners who took their complaints all the way to mediation but did not accomplish anything. Some homeowners complained when they went to attorneys they found that even if they won the case, attorney fees would average 40 percent of the settlement amount, leaving them without enough money to rebuild their homes.
Gallagher explained while his office could revoke an insurance company’s license to operate in Florida, but there was little he could do to ensure that companies paid policyholder’s claims.
Gallagher admitted he didn’t have answers, but everyone who said they had unsettled claims, was escorted by a member of his staff out to the waiting trailers, where under the watchful-eye of the DFS employee, insurance company representatives discussed the claims with the homeowners. If an insurance company representative wasn’t present, the DFS employee obtained information about the claim and called the insurance company to discuss the situation.
In some cases Gallagher’s only choice was to suggest mediation, or if that had already failed, to hire a lawyer – all the while pledging to change Florida’s insurance regulations in an effort to avoid such problems in the future.
Some policyholders however found the town hall meetings very productive. Several, jubilantly waving long-overdue checks, thanked Gallagher for providing a forum at which they could work out their differences with insurance company representatives.
Allstate, Citizens Property Insurance and State Farm, to name a few company representatives, parked “National Disaster Team” mobile units in the high school parking lot. Many talked to policyholders about their claims early in the morning, before the town hall meetings began at 9 a.m., and in some cases wrote settlement checks on the spot.
Only a few Citizens Property Insurance policyholders showed up, because as Florida’s insurer-of-last-resort, most of its clients are in Southeast Florida. Gallagher cited statistics indicating only 12 percent of the claims were with Citizens.
The town hall meeting in Orlando was the last of four. Previous meetings were held in Pensacola, Sebastian and Port Charlotte. Gallagher reiterated at the Orlando meeting that he would make recommendations to the Florida Legislature, based on feedback and information gathered during the town hall meetings about how to strengthen insurance regulations so homeowners would be better protected during future hurricane hits.