One year after Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers (AFTL) and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) are launching a national petition drive calling on insurance companies to put policyholders over profits by paying fair and just claims to area residents who find themselves near ruin.
AFTL and ATLA also released a report, “Pattern of Greed: How Insurance Companies Put Profits Over Policyholders,” which alleges that the insurance industry has made a practice of collecting billions of dollars from policyholders over the years and then stiffing them in their time of greatest need after various natural disasters.
Meanwhile, study claims, the insurance industry is making record profits.
“While the insurance industry enjoys record profits and CEOs bulging bank accounts, too many residents of the Gulf region are left waiting for the settlements they deserve to help them get back on their feet,” said AFTL President Ed Zebersky.
“Whether it be an earthquake, tornado or a hurricane, insurance companies have engaged in questionable tactics over the years to delay or deny the payment of justified and fair claims. That is why we are urging the insurance companies to clean up their act and pay fair and just claims once and for all.”
The groups appear to have the support of some claimants.
“This mistreatment by our insurance company is unfair for our association because we have not filed a claim in 25 years. It is unfair to senior citizens on fixed incomes to have to come up with the money because insurance companies are playing games,” said James Ofstein, board president of the Embassy Condominium Apartment Association, whose building in Ft. Lauderdale suffered significant damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Ofstein said he is using the civil justice system to hold his insurance company accountable for refusing to pay.
“As long as our insurance company continues to act irresponsibly and fails to pay fair and just claims, the last resort for our association and its homeowners to hold the company accountable is the civil justice system,” added Ofstein.
“It is unfair to working families to have to come up with the money for skyrocketing insurance premiums just so these companies can continue to make record profits and not live up to their end of the policy,” said Geoff Still, of Coral Gables, Florida, whose home was ravaged by Hurricane Wilma.
Still maintains that he has been unable to collect from Universal Property and Casualty Company. He alleges it took his insurance company five months to send an adjuster to his home and inspect the damage and the adjuster’s report “grossly undervalued damages and cost of repair.”
As a result, the restoration of his home has stopped. Still, his wife Stacey and three young children currently reside in a single bedroom in the home of Still’s father.
“The minute you need insurance companies they don’t pay, but as soon as you are late on a payment they drop you,” said John Melley, of Punta Gorda, Florida, whose home suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Charlie.
The AFTL-ATLA report alleges that some insurance companies may have even engaged in fraud. In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is charging that adjusters for some firms tried to trick Katrina victims out of millions of dollars in homeowner claims.
“Big Insurance and their CEOs are infinitely more interested in their bottom line than their policyholders. Over the years, victims of other natural disasters have found themselves bullied by the insurance industry into accepting less compensation than they deserved or had their claims rejected for dubious reasons,” added Zebersky.
To view both the petition and the report, visit www.peopleoverprofits.org.
Source: AFTL, ATLA
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