Ex-Poe policyholders submit barrage of claims before deadline

Jun 9, 2008

Palm Beach Post--June 06, 2008

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

More than 1,300 insurance claims dating from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons were filed by former Poe Financial Group policyholders in the 30 days before the door closed shut Monday on new filings.

But some of the clients of Poe’s three insolvent property insurers won’t be getting a payment from the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association because they did not meet a concurrent deadline for filing suit against the agency.

State law requires all hurricane claims for insolvent insurers to be settled within two years of the demise of an insurer – but the law makes an exception for a lawsuit filed within the deadline.

As many as 1,000 claimants may see their cases die, said Michelle Nowell Lovern, the agency’s deputy director.

Boca Raton postal worker Mark Cillo won’t be among them. His attorney, Chip Merlin, has filed 238 lawsuits against the guaranty association in the last two weeks, including one on Cillo’s behalf.

"People would still be having discussions if it wasn’t for the statute of limitations,” Merlin said.

Cillo, 48, said his roof still leaks from Hurricane Wilma damage and his screen enclosure is unstable. Poe paid him only $9,000, though a public adjuster he hired this year concluded he needed more than $60,000 to make repairs. The guaranty association has refused to give him any more money, he says.

”I’ve paid my insurance for 20 years and never had a claim," Cillo said. ”Now I can’t get paid."

Cillo says tree branches fell on his roof and screen porch in the October 2005 storm. The guaranty association’s engineers said Cillo’s roof leaks came from wear and tear on his 1985 house, not the tree.

The Monday deadline closed another chapter in one of the largest insurance company failures in U.S. history.

Poe’s Atlantic Preferred, Florida Preferred and Southern Family Insurance were declared insolvent as of June 1, 2006. Lovern said the association has paid more than 45,000 claims, a total of $1.4 billion.

More than half of that, $750 million, has come from surcharges imposed on Florida policyholders, the rest from reinsurance bought by Poe.

Lovern insisted her agency had done its best to settle legitimate claims. She said that at last count it had settled 2,507 of the 3,236 unresolved claims open last month.

The roughly 1,000 claims that are dying on the vine include ones submitted before and after May 1, she said.

But attorneys say some people didn’t know the guaranty association was handling Poe claims and were unaware they had recourse.

”People thought Poe went out of business and there was nothing they could do," said Paul Berger, an attorney who operates the Hurricane Law Center in Coral Springs.

Lovern said more than 450 unresolved claims were converted to lawsuits in the last few weeks, but there could be many more because the association has not been served on every suit.