Ain’t no Sunshine When Policyholders’ Leverage is Gone

It looks like the Florida legislature is about to pass a set of radical amendments that will deprive property owners in the Sunshine State of the power to enforce the laws that give them the right to be treated fairly by insurance companies…and with no requirement that premiums come down to compensate for the loss of that right.

Every Florida homeowner should be calling the Governor and their Assembly and Senate representatives to register their opposition and outrage. For more info, click here.

United Policyholders is a non-profit that’s in the business of helping people avoid and solve insurance related problems. We advocate for laws and public policies that hold insurers to their promises to indemnify their customers when they suffer losses. With the power and money dynamics that come into play when a disaster-impacted homeowner needs their for-profit insurer to come through, those laws are critically important. But they don’t enforce themselves.

Every day people from across the United States call and send us emails seeking help getting their claims paid.  Most of them are in severe financial distress due to an insurer’s refusal to cover the costs of restoring their homes to a safe and liveable condition.  Most are shocked by the excuses, delays, fine print limits, confusing math and hardball tactics insurers are now using.

Insurers denied one third of Hurricane Irma claims without payment, and so far have denied just under 1/3 of Hurricane Ian Claims. (Source: FLOIR) If your home was damaged or destroyed in a hurricane and your insurer refused to pay for needed repairs in full and on time – would you just roll over and take it?  If this legislation goes through as is, that’s likely to be the only option for most people.

When people contact UP for help, we help them be their own best advocates and remind them that they’ve paid for coverage and good claim service and shouldn’t have to pay a lawyer or other professional to get it.  The vast majority of people don’t want to hire a lawyer or initiate a lawsuit – they just want to be able to fix their homes with the insurance benefits they paid for. In almost every case, hiring an attorney and initiating a lawsuit is a last resort when all else has failed. 

Most of the lawsuits insurers are complaining about are the result of their own failure to deliver the peace of mind and financial security they agreed to provide when they cashed people’s premium checks. The legal system filters out frivolous claims. Have their been abuses?  Without question.  Do they merit removing the most potent deterrent to insurers witholding repair funds owed? NO.

UP does our best to identify the laws, regulations, strategies and free government resources that give an individual leverage to get a powerful corporation to change course and pay a claim fairly.  But at the end of the day, the ability to hire a competent lawyer and file a lawsuit is the most potent leverage available to individuals in today’s rough and tumble insurance ecosystem.  In an ecosystem where consumers face high and multiple wind and roof deductibles, complicated math formulas, estimating tools designed to undervalue damage, “touchless” claim adjusting, unresponsive claim departments and having to deal with third party consultants instead of of adjusters employed by their insurer – the average person often doesn’t stand a chance unless they hire a lawyer.  

But instead of doubling down on the penalties insurers face for not making good on their promises, or beefing up the consumer assistance and enforcement resources of the state agencies, the Florida legislature is on the brink of depriving their state’s residents of their primary leverage to remedy unfair treatment. Yes, a policyholder can file a complaint with the Division of Financial Services, but they don’t have the staffing and funding to be an effective substitute for the private attorneys who remedy individual disputes and enforce fair claim handling laws. That’s just a fact.

Florida’s latest Special Insurance Session bill (which piles on to what they’d already done earlier this year), will make it functionally impossible for most people to find a lawyer to take their case let alone take the personal financial risk of possibly having to pay an insurance companies legal bills if they lose. A radical undoing of a 100 year old law.

Another gem in the special session package is forcing policyholders into mandatory binding arbitration to resolve claim disputes.  Again – the consumer is screwed from the get-go.  Insurers control the process and have the ability to pay their experts by the hour – most consumers don’t.

And why? To reduce insurance rates – the proponents say.  Then why not include a requirement that insurers reduce their rates within a reasonable period of time after the reforms take effect?

Speak UP Floridians!


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Where Are Florida’s Leaders Explaining How Floridians Can Fully Get Paid and Not Get Ripped Off By Their Own Insurance Companies?

Nowhere to be found. That is the answer.

It is quite proper to warn people about unscrupulous scoundrels without licenses who are gauging Florida’s Hurricane Ian victims. Trying to ferret out those individuals and asking the public for information and to turn them in is something everybody supports.

At the same time, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that insurance companies know they can profit a lot more by underpaying rather than fully paying their customers. United Policyholders has decades of experience seeing this and has a Roadmap to Recovery website devoted to educating policyholders and warning about improper insurance company claims practices.

Since 1991 our Roadmap to Recovery™ program has been improving disaster recovery by providing free insurance and decision-making guidance, tools, and resources to people, businesses and communities. The program includes our online library of claim tips, sample letters, reports, instructional videos, professional help directory, and articles written by leading experts in personal finance, construction, and the law.

Insurance funds are typically the most important and valuable source of help recovering from a disaster, but history has shown those funds don’t always flow as they should. Insurers are competitive, for-profit businesses with shareholders, rules and paperwork requirements. Insurance policies are legal contracts. Policyholders (insurance consumers) generally do not know the rules or their rights, and are vulnerable and overwhelmed. That’s where United Policyholders, (“UP”) comes in.

Does Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation or Insurance Consumer Advocate have any information like this on their websites? No. Have you seen any Florida insurance regulator seek media attention to ask that Floridians turn in and file complaints against lowballing and slow-paying insurance company adjusters? The answer again is “no.”

Whose side are they really on?

Douglas Quinn of the American Policyholders Association speaks out against insurance fraud all the time. But his organization has a mission to point out when insurance companies commit insurance fraud against their own customers. Quinn points out that elected officials and regulators rarely do anything about insurance fraud against policyholders and fail to warn people how to stand up to such wrongful conduct.

Is there an official whistleblower hotline where field adjusters can safely provide information to regulators about how claims managers are unethically instructing them how to rip off policyholders or expose other corrupt claims practices? You know the answer.

I ask the last question because I am getting calls from hardworking and honest field adjusters and even independent claims managers, telling me how their bosses are ripping off policyholders. The new roofing law doing away with the 25% requirement now has some insurance companies telling their independent adjusters not to replace roofs until the damage is at least 75% and that they will only patch up roofs. Field adjusters write estimates only to have desk adjusters re-write them lower without approval of the field adjuster.

Are there warnings by insurance regulators to be on the watch for these practices that rip off policyholders? No.

So, who can Floridians turn to when they face these underpaying and lowball tactics by insurance companies? Public adjusters and attorneys are about the only ones I can think of.

Who are Florida’s political leaders calling “bad” after Hurricane Ian? Bingo—public adjusters and attorneys.

Whose side are Florida’s political leaders on? Why will Florida policyholders need public adjusters and attorneys?

Still, my gut feeling when I meet most Florida leaders is that they want to help and do the right thing. But, sometimes, it is important to have stories and teach them what is really going on where the rubber meets the road.

On the other side, the insurance industry has an army of insurance lobbyists. They are truly like paid locusts and show up daily with their side of the story. They have more money than God to pay for election finance. They get the ear of political leaders with campaign money, incessant pressure, and propaganda.

Those of us on the side of policyholders need to do better to help our elected officials do and say the right things to protect insurance consumers. It is not enough to point out the deficiencies of the current system—we must also engage, educate, and make certain that the stories are heard of people being ripped off by insurers putting profits before people. It takes action by those of us doing good, not just idle chatter complaining about the bad.

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Hurricane Ian UPdate & Roadmap to Recovery Info

The amount of destruction, dislocation and loss of life caused by Hurricane Ian is still being calculated, but it’s horrendous, record-breaking and very sad. Fortunately this is not Florida’s first hurricane – and help resources are pouring in.

United Policyholders has set up a Hurricane Ian Help Library and will be assisting impacted households in the months and years ahead by working with trusted partners in the region and connecting them with current information and resources. During our upcoming Ian Roadmap to Recovery Orientation webinar, UP staff and a Florida-based expert panel will highlight best practices for documenting losses and securing insurance benefits on time and in full.

People, businesses and communities that have been hit by Ian will need help finding reliable professional help with emergency repairs and drying out what can be salvaged. They face stiff competition for reputable professionals to accurately estimate repair and replacement costs and do the necessary work, supply chain problems, inflated material costs, high-pressure sales tactics and ripoff artists. And, they face “wind versus water” and related insurance coverage and claim challenges. Far too many will be underinsured and uninsured.

We call on adjusters employed by Florida insurers and the National Flood Insurance Program to uphold their legal and moral obligation to adjust and pay Ian claims fairly, fully and promptly. We call on insurance executives, attorneys, public adjusters, and public officials to collaborate on non-adversarial solutions to resolving claim disputes. The scale of destruction and future of the insurance system compel this.

High deductibles, fine-print limitations and exclusions, and business and political dynamics mean that many victims will have to fight to recover the full benefits they’re entitled to.

UP looks forward to supporting constructive solutions that have worked in other regions impacted by large-scale catastrophic and flooding events. Coordinated debris removal, bulk buying of construction materials, and fair insurance dispute resolution processes for home and flood claims are critical and imperative.

Know someone affected by the hurricane?
Share these links:

Hurricane Ian Insurance and Recovery Help Library
Avoiding Frauds and Scams After a Disaster
NFIP flood policyholders can request a $20,000 advance
Help from the FL. Division of Consumer Services
Licensed professional claim help

UP will be updating our Hurricane Ian Insurance and Recovery Help library often with resources. Check back often:

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Tips To Help Consumers Get Fair Insurance Treatment After Hurricane Ian

Insurers and Public Officials Must Ensure Consumer Claims Get Paid in Full

Washington, DC – Today Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and United Policyholders (UP) shared resources to help consumers get their wind and flood insurance claims paid promptly, fully, and fairly in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Policyholders are entitled to receive their claims payments to the full extent of their insurance policy. Insurance regulators and state and federal officials must hold insurers to their obligations.

“Getting claims paid after Hurricane Ian must not become a second disaster for the policyholders who will rely on the insurance companies in the weeks and months ahead,” said Douglas Heller, CFA’s Director of Insurance. “We hope insurers will be good partners in the recovery and rebuilding to come, but history tells us that policyholders and regulators must stay vigilant to ensure fair treatment.”

“Home and flood insurance funds should be the fastest and best source of recovery help for the home and business owners who’ve been devastated by Ian,” said Amy Bach, Executive Director of United Policyholders. “Finding trustworthy repair pros and temporary living arrangements will be very hard – the last thing victims need is insurers balking at paying in full and on time. Through our Roadmap to Recovery program, UP and our Florida-based partners are mobilizing to deliver guidance and advocacy services aimed at making sure all available funds flow as they should. Visit: early and often.”

Many Ian victims will be underinsured and uninsured for flood damage, and there will be big fights over whether the damage was caused by wind (covered in a home policy) versus flooding (excluded in a home policy). Home insurers should pay for damage from hurricane winds and falling rain.

The two leading national consumer groups recommend that insured property owners with damaged homes take the following steps:

  1. Contact your insurance company and report your claim as soon as possible. Depending on what caused the damage to your home, your claim may be covered by wind insurance or flood insurance, or by both.
  2. Document damage in photos and video as thoroughly as possible, but only to the extent that it is safe to do so. Do not allow damaged items to be removed before they have been photo-documented.
  3. Keep a daily journal, noting each time you speak or meet with insurance company adjusters, repair pros, or anyone you are considering hiring. Note their name and the date and time of the contact.
  4. Maintain receipts for every cost you incur; this includes hotel and food costs when you evacuate, any alternative living arrangement costs if you cannot return to your home, and anything you spend on making initial repairs to your home to prevent further damage. This may be covered under your home or private flood insurance policy. Temporary living expenses are not covered under NFIP policies.
  5. Check references and license status before you agree to hire or assign any of your insurance benefits to any professional. Post-disaster scams are common. Local help is preferable but if not available, be careful vetting out-of-the-area pros before you sign on the dotted line.
  6. Contact your Insurance Department and FEMA (for flood claims) if you run into problems::

Florida Office of Insurance Regulation
200 E Gaines St, Tallahassee, FL 32399
File a complaint:

South Carolina Department of Insurance
1201 Main St #1000, Columbia, SC 29201
File a complaint:

Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C St SW, Washington, DC 20024

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Who can home and business owners impacted by Hurricane Ian trust?

Photo courtesy of Rick Tutwiler, P.C.L.S.

The amount of destruction, dislocation and loss of life caused by Hurricane Ian is still being calculated, but it’s horrendous, record-breaking and very sad.  Wind damage is bad enough, but when combined with water, repairs are challenging and drying out is essential.  Qualified and reputable help is very important.  Local qualified and reputable is the safest bet, but those resources will be in very short supply.  Genuine and not so genuine “helpers” will be pouring into the state, and impacted home and business owners will have to be extra careful about who they take advice from and who they hire for repairs.

United Policyholders has set up a Hurricane Ian Insurance and Recovery Help Library, and will be supporting recovery in the months and years ahead by working with trusted partners in the region and connecting impacted home and businesses with reliable and current information and resources.

This Tampa Bay Times article echoes our “Key Tips” guidance and quotes Rick Tutwiler, one of our long time Florida-based supporters:

Photo courtesy of Rick Tutwiler, P.C.L.S.


Stay tuned…



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Much of the damage from Hurricane Ian will be from flooding, but will homeowners be covered?

Ian has now regained hurricane strength after exiting the state of Florida. It’s now threatening the Carolinas.

A lot of destruction from the storm is from water. Massive storm surges inundated cities and towns along the Gulf Coast, and there’s been heavy rain across much of the state.

Anyone who has flood damage from storm surge or other water that came in from the ground up will only be covered by flood insurance – not by a regular homeowner’s insurance policy, said Karen Collins at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.

“If somebody did have water-related damage from wind-driven rain, rain that came through wind-damaged windows, a door, or a hole in the wall or roof, this is considered wind storm damage, not flood damage,” she said.

And that is covered by regular homeowner’s insurance. But there are going to be a lot of homes in Florida with flood damage.

And only about 20% of homeowners in the state have flood insurance, according to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. And, that’s actually more than in other states.

“Anybody whose property is located in a high-risk flood area and has a mortgage has to have it,” said Amy Bach at the nonprofit United Policyholders, who added that means a lot of people in Fort Myers, and other cities and towns right along the Gulf Coast do likely have it.

“But, it’s everybody else that we worry about, where it’s not been mandatory for people to buy flood insurance, it’s just an expense most people can’t afford.”

People without flood insurance will be able to apply for grants from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bach said, but they max out at about $38,000.

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Tasha Carter said she expects there are hundreds of thousands of homeowners who’ve been affected by the storm.

“Given the strength and size of Hurricane Ian, and its catastrophic effect on Florida, I am very concerned about the length of the potential recovery period,” she said.

This is a traumatic time for people whose homes were just damaged.

“It’s almost unbelievable, and you can’t believe this happened to you,” said Chip Merlin, a lawyer in Tampa. He said it can be hard in the midst of that trauma for people to take the necessary steps to get what they’re entitled to from their insurance company.

But – it’s important to do a couple of things quickly.

“Video everything in terms of the damage. Very shortly, it’ll start getting cleaned up and things like that. But they want to take the initial assessment of all the damage and get that all documented as soon as they possibly can,” Merlin said.

And then, Merlin said, they should get that video – and claim – into their insurance company as soon as possible, too.

“It’s so important to do because there’s gonna be this mad rush to get from everybody that’s been damaged,” and it’s going to take awhile to get everyone through the process.

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