Citizens Uses Scare Tactics

warning letter

The role of the State government as a property insurer is continuing to decrease.  Since 2012, Citizens Property Insurance has passed off more than 1 million property insurance policies to private carriers, and another surge is to come over the next four months, said Barry Gilway CEO and president of Citizens.

Citizens’ board of governors was informed that there will be an enormous upcoming action in November. Gilway foresees a large amount of take-out policies being offered to private carriers as early as January, getting thousands of more policies in the private market

By the end of 2016, Citizens estimates that it will hold less than 450,000 policies. A massive reduction in comparison to 2012 when Citizens held 1.5 million property insurance policies, but insufficient surplus to cover the state if a major hurricane had hit.

Citizens currently has 575,000 policies issued and more than 7.5 billion dollars in surplus.

Getting to low numbers has come with controversy and questions on the way Citizens has shifted many of its policies. Letters from private carriers companies announcing they were going to acquire the homeowner’s Citizens’ policy looked like junk mail, many times ending in trash cans, preventing homeowners from opting out to remain with Citizens. Critics have complained that Citizens has used “scare tactics” by warning homeowners of a 45 percent increase in assessments for those who chose to remain with Citizens. However, the likelihood of the assessments was low, as Citizens had $7 billion to cover potential losses.

Recently, Citizens’ approach has been more consumer friendly. Citizens now sends a warning letter to residents to inform them that a private insurer will be contacting them shortly to switch into the private market. The letters have been reworded, still warning of potential assessments but having less of a doomsday feel.

State officials have been working on shrinking Florida as an insurer ever since the State’s private market has gradually rebounded from the early 2000s hurricanes. If Citizens carries too much risk, everyone in Florida can be hit with surcharges to make sure there is enough funds to cover Citizens. In essence, bigger the State insurer is, the bigger the risk that is carried down to all taxpayers.

The State’s intent was to have Citizens be the insurer of last resort. This meant, they would only take policies that the private market would not take. However, during the mid-2000s, major private carriers stopped writing policies and Citizens’ numbers increased dramatically.

Despite the fact that the numbers are shrinking, Citizens is still raising premiums on many policyholders- particularly in Southeast Florida.

 


Florida insurer’s appeal, over assignment of benefits, rejected by court

gavel-568417_640An appeals court Monday pointedly said it is up to state lawmakers — not the court system — to tackle a controversial issue in the insurance industry known as “assignment of benefits.”

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal refused an insurer’s request to rehear a case decided in June.

Also, it declined to ask the Florida Supreme Court to take up a key issue in the case through a process known as “certifying” a question to the Supreme Court.

The issue in the case involves homeowners signing over policy benefits to contractors. In the June decision, the appeals court backed the state Office of Insurance Regulation, which turned down requests from Security First Insurance Co. to restrict the ability of policyholders to assign policy rights without the insurer’s approval.

The practice known as “assignment of benefits” often occurs when homeowners need repairs for problems such as water damage. In such cases, contractors pursue payments from insurance companies.

The insurance industry argues that such assignment of benefits can lead to inflated costs and fraud.

Contractors argue that the practice helps homeowners quickly hire contractors for emergency repairs.

But the appeals court Monday said a “century of precedents” have found that policyholders can make assignments without insurers’ consent.

“We again conclude … that it is for the legislative branch to consider this public policy problem, not the courts, at this juncture,” said the ruling, written by Judge Scott Makar and joined by judges Stephanie Ray and Ross Bilbrey.

“Legislative review provides a more detailed inquiry into the current situation in the industry and greater flexibility in achieving meaningful reforms, if deemed necessary. On the other hand, courts are ill-equipped to pass judgment on the merits of the policy debate at hand, and less likely to be able to formulate a remedy that is mutually beneficial to insureds and insurers.”

 

Source: Orlando Sentinel, October 26, 2015


Florida Man Arrested for Stealing Nearly $100,000 in Insurance Claims from Elderly Hurricane Sandy Victims

The Florida Division of Insurance Fraud announced this month the arrest of a Naples, Florida man, Daniel T. Phelps.  Phelps allegedly stole two insurance claim payments totaling over $96,000 from an elderly New Jersey business owner who shortly after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, sustained damage to his business.

George Capuzzi had filed an insurance claim as a result Hurricane Sandy. However, he suffered from health-related issued and was in need of assistance with the filing of the hurricane insurance claim for his business. Considering Capuzzi’s need for assistance, a mutual friend referred Daniel Phelps to Capuzzi as someone who could assist him the claims filing process.

The Division of Insurance Fraud received information demonstrating that Phelps had stolen two checks from Capuzzi who was awaiting an insurance disbursement to make the necessary repairs to re-open his business in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Phelps took advantage of the elderly business owner and re-directed the delivery of the insurance claim checks to his girlfriend’s home in Naples. Once mailed, Phelps took a trip to South Florida. After receiving the checks, Phelps fraudulently endorsed Capuzzi’s name. Phelps attempted to mask the fraudulent deposit by utilizing his step-brother’s driver’s license to deposit the checks into a joint bank account. He then transferred the funds out of the joint account into his personal bank account, where he used the money at will.

During the following three months, the Department of Insurance Fraud said Phelps spent the $96,000 on a new Jaguar car, a trip to Key West, a boat, and Lasik eye surgery. As of today, due to Phelps’s fraud George Capuzzi’s business has not re-opened.

Earlier this month, Phelps was picked up at the Broward County Health Center on charges of grand theft, scheming to defraud, and criminal use of personal ID. Phelp’s case will be prosecuted by the Office of the State Attorney.


Summer’s Windstorms

florida-summer-stormJust this past summer several powerful windstorms have hit  several areas in Florida. These storms have been strong enough to damage shingles and tear off roofs.

As advocates for policy holders, we have seen that many insurance claims arising out of storms will be underpaid, delayed, or wrongly denied. Homeowners may be intimidated by denial letters and left without direction.

Regardless of why your damages have not been paid, we can review your claim free of charge. Hire an insurance expert who can navigate you through the process and rightfully obtain a settlement for your damages.

We will let you know whether the insurance company is acting with good faith and doing the right thing. If legal representation is advised and we obtain a fair settlement, insurance company will be responsible for paying attorney’s fees and cost.

Our goal is to get you a settlement that is rightfully yours. We will not let “NO” be the final answer. Call The Mineo Salcedo Law Firm for a free consultation.  (954) 463-8100.

 


Dealing With Hail or Wind Damage

damaged-roofProperties in Florida have a greater propensity to have roof damage from wind or hall. If you have lived in Florida for several years, you may have experienced storms that could have potentially damage to your roof.  Luckily, in many cases storm damage to your roof will be covered under your property insurance policy.

However, insurance companies may not always properly evaluate damage and many insured’s will end up with a denied claim. The following are strategies many carriers use:

·       Reporting that damages are due to construction errors in installation.

·       Denying the coverage under the wear and tear exclusion in policies.

·       Carriers will blame deterioration when the roof had not leaked until a hail or wind storm. It is important to note that most shingle roofs in Florida have a 20 year life.

·       Florida law requires that 25% or more of the roof to be damages in order to receive full replacement from the insurance company. Insurance companies may agree to only pay a small portion even if more than 25% is damaged.

·       Hiring engineers who will report that the roof has little to no damage.

Our firm has successfully litigated roof claims against some of the largest insurance companies and often when a case is won, the insurance company will be responsible for paying attorney’s fees and cost.  Think you have roof damage?  Call The Mineo Salcedo Law Firm for a free home inspection and consultation.  (954) 463-8100.


Sinkhole opens up, shuts down traffic

Sinkhole in Concrete RoadOn Monday, October 5th, one of the busiest roads in Miami was reopened, about eight hours after a sinkhole opened and caused major traffic delays, making the evening commute, increasingly difficult.

The 4-by-4-foot sinkhole appeared between Southwest Sixth Street and 27th Avenue at about 2 p.m. in Miami. The 4-by-4 opening was found in the middle of the southbound lanes.

The closed roads made it especially difficult for Miami residents to reach their destinations during rush hour commutes.

As a result of the sinkhole appearance, Miami Police and Fire Rescue decided to shut down 27th Avenue southbound between Sixth and Seventh Street. During this time, crews focused on a 10-by-10 foot section underneath the road, which was not visible from the surface. When the sinkhole was found, the ground appeared to have been eaten away by the water or something that might have resulted in this area below the surface to grow.

In order to fix the damage, Miami-Dade Water and Sewage crews dug up a lot of 27th Avenue southbound and were then able to open up the hole a little, with the help of the construction equipment.

The hole became so deep that two men were able to fit inside to repair the leak.

Officials say that the hole was caused by a water main break and they showed concern that other areas may cave in, as a result they decided to shut off the water in the area.

After countless hours of work, crews finally finished closing the hole at about 10 p.m. and all roads on Southwest 27th Avenue were reopened. By this point, the task took all day to complete and caused major traffic delays to Miami residents commuting and using this important road, however, this was a necessary measure to take under the circumstances.


South Florida Concerns

storm damaged neighborhoodTropical Storm Erika was treated as a breeze for South Florida. However, it was an effective practice drill for the community.

Tropical Storm Erika teased South Florida for several days. We experienced some flood advisories and lightening but no major incidents.

Many expected South Florida to be out of practice for a hurricane because we have had very few threats since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005 when it took a surprised U-turn across the Everglades and caused $20 billion in damages.

Yet if South Florida was rusty in hurricane preparedness, it sure did not show any signs of it. Drivers patiently waited to fuel their vehicles. Locals bought supplies out of grocery stores ahead of time and there were minimal reports of impolite shoppers or panic. Many residents put up hurricane shutters and stored outside objects that had the potential of becoming flying projectiles.

Government official had the opportunity to test out their emergency plans. Government Rick Scott declared a state of emergency which allows Florida to seek assistance from the federal government and other states if the need arises.

Many questions are still left unanswered.  The revised flood maps, specifically in Palm Beach cities and western Broward have allowed property owners to opt out of buying flood insurance. What effect will this have in the event that a flood does occur?

Citizens Property Insurance Corp has outsourced thousands of policies to fairly new companies. South Florida has not experienced a hurricane in over 10 years. Will the upstart companies be able to properly respond to a catastrophe?

Are groceries stores and gasoline stations truly prepared? Due to the hour-long lines at gasoline stations after Hurricane Wilma, a law was passed that now require back-up generators at gas stations within a half-mile of an evacuation zones and interstate highways.

How well can county water managers handle the control of canal levels and stormwater pumps to reduce flooding?  How efficiently have 911 emergency service response systems handled storms?

Florida Power and Light and other utility companies are also of concern. How quickly can companies like FPL address power interruptions?

Most of these questions can only be answered through actual experiences and for now, will be left for another storm and hopefully another season.

Suffered storm damage?  Call the experts at The Mineo Salcedo Law Firm for a free consultation.  (954) 463-8100.


Choosing The Right Homeowners Policy

mineo salcedo house with hurricane damageKnowing what insurance policy to purchase can be quite a task if you are unfamiliar with the market. As one of the largest assets Americans own, it is recommended that you carry adequate coverage against a loss to your home.

Homeowners insurance will mitigate the risk of loss from various causes of loss such as, hurricanes, theft, fire, and water damage. The standard policy will generally cover property structure, personal property and provide protection against liability for accidental damage to other people’s property or injured invitees.

Do your homework in choosing a policy; you have to make sure you can rely on the company you choose. Here are some tips to help you through the process.

  1. Most states have websites that contain information to help indicate an insurance company’s health. The state websites will contain information such as complaints, insurance company rating, and fraud reports. What matters is that the insurance company provides service quality, customer satisfaction, and has the financial capacity to meet its obligations.
  1. Decide the amount of coverage you need. If you have a mortgage, the lender may require you to carry policy limits that cover the property to your loan amount. Keep in mind that the better your coverage the less you will have to pay out of pocket. The policy rate you pay will depend on various factors such as the location of the property and the amount of coverage you select for your home, personal property and contents.
  1. Chose a deductible that you would be comfortable paying out of pocket if you file a claim. A deductible is the amount you have to pay out of pocket for every claim you file.
  1. Some causes of loss are not covered under a homeowner’s insurance policy. For example, floods are not covered; you will need to purchase a separate flood policy. It is recommended that you purchase a policy if your property is located within a high flood risk area. If this is the case, some lenders may require you to purchase a flood policy.
  1. Shop around for policies. Note that you are not required to purchase a policy from the insurance company your lender recommends. Visit several agents and get a couple of rates from different insurance companies to insure you are receiving the most affordable rate as well as one that meets your needs.

If needed seek assistance from an insurance professional. A qualified insurance agent will conduct a thorough analysis of your insurance needs. Check with your agent every year to insure your policy is providing adequate coverage. In the unfortunate event that you suffer a loss which requires that you file a claim, do so immediately after contacting someone who is knowledgeable about property insurance policies. The professionals at The Mineo Salcedo Law Firm have over 50 years of combined experience in the insurance industry and would be happy to discuss your claim with you. Call (954) 463-8100 for a free consultation.


Why Home Inventories Can Help With Your Claim Settlement

Home InventoryNatural disasters can strike us at any time. Homeowners can insure they are best prepared by documenting their home inventories. Home inventories are detailed list of household and personal belongings with their proximate value.

“The format is not nearly as important as just having some kind of list” said Jeanne Salvatore of the New York based Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit that helps educate the public about insurance.

“Just going around your home with a pen and paper taking notes, or making a video with your smartphone of yourself walking around you home and describing the things around you, can make a world of a difference when you need to make a claim.”

Inventories are recommended for homeowners, renters, and even places of business.

“Regular people, whether they’re homeowners or renters, need home inventories way more than the wealthy, because they need the money more.” Salvatore said. “People always say they don’t have a lot of stuff. But If you add up the cost of your bed, with your mattress, mattress cover, bed frame, and maybe a few suits hanging in your closet, some high-tech items or small appliances, and bike or golf clubs, it easily adds up to thousands of dollars. And you’re going to really depend on that money to get up and running again after a disaster.”

Experts estimate that less than 40 percent of households have compiled a detailed inventory of their belongings. Having an inventory may decrease the time it takes to process a claim and can even mean the difference of whether you are reimbursed for your loss.

The goal is to value your personal property that was destroyed or damaged in the least time-consuming and painful way possible.

Basic Strategy   

Creating a home inventory is as easy as putting together a list of belongings and their estimated value. It is also recommended that you save receipts when you buy valuable items and get in the habit of taking photos. In the occasion that you did not keep receipts, copies of credit card bills, serial numbers, or even notes on where and when item was purchased can be of great help.

Taking on the task of creating an inventory list will take time to put together. Salvatore suggests that if you have children to get them involved as well. Have the children take pictures of their own rooms, taking photos of their sporting goods, computers, gaming systems and, all other personal belongings.

There are also software programs available to help prepare inventory which are free or inexpensive. However, experts say there are benefits to hiring home inventory companies to get the job done. Hiring a home inventory company can generally cost $500-$800 but can save thousands of dollars in potential losses. The great advantage of having an experienced expert to do the inventory is that there is no dispute of the claim. Having a third-party eliminates the burden of proof that it is not fraud.

Homeowners may also want to send a copy of their inventory list to their insurance agent to assure they are carrying adequate coverage. If possible, update your home inventories annually. Do it at the same time every year so that it is easy to remember.

“Take a look at your garage and ask yourself what you’d want to claim if it went up in smoke. It might be as simple as detailing and photographing gardening and sporting equipment,” said Salvatore.

Make sure to include your wardrobe, which can add up to a lot. Take into account sentimental or irreplaceable items, such as painting and jewelry. Although they may not be replaceable, it is possible to replace it with another item of the same value.

http://triblive.com/business/realestate/8860801-74/insurance-inventory-inventories#axzz3j5UkERuc


Hillsborough Sinkhole

sinkholeJust last month, Hillsborough County gave two Valirco families three minutes to get out of their homes. This is shortly, after a 6- foot deep sinkhole opened between their homes.

The sinkhole is between property line 4724 and 4726 Copper Canyon Blvd. A local news station discovered the homeowners of 4724 Canyon filed a claim with their insurance company in connection with significant cracks in January. State Farm investigated by hiring an engineering firm which documented cracks and found sinkhole activity under the home. However, State Farm denied the homeowner’s claim to stabilize the house. “They told them, ‘Oh, you’re fine, and now, eight months later, we know what the definition of fine is,” said Chris Codling, an attorney representing that homeowner, Santiago Trujillo.

Now geologists and engineers from both homeowners’ insurance companies are investigating the damage by using ground penetrating radar to determine the activity is going on beneath their homes.

However, the homeowners remain are worried about what will happen to their personal belonging and homes, questioning why State Farm didn’t take the proper steps to stop this from happening.

Codling explained that Florida laws changed in 2011 that now allow insurance companies to deny sinkhole claims if they determine the sinkhole activity has not caused structural damage.

Codling says his clients maintained that the cracks were structural damage, and initially worried about a sinkhole opening under the house since they first reported their claim. Nonetheless, State Farm stated that the structure was intact.

State Farm is now forced to fix both properties, including the home next door that belongs to 80-year-old Yolanda Altreche and her husband. They got out with only the clothes on their backs and are terrified.

“It’s taking a toll on me,” she said. “I’m not a young person. I’m an old woman. It’s hard. It’s very hard.”

http://wfla.com/2015/08/14/valrico-sinkhole-victims-told-insurance-company-about-cracks-in-january/