Homeowners sue state over insurer Poe

Jun 12, 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel–June 11, 2008

By Paul Owers
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A nonprofit agency formed by the Legislature to pay claims of the insolvent Poe property insurance companies has been slow to respond, say lawyers who have filed suit on behalf of nearly 300 homeowners in South Florida.

"They’re doing the people … a disservice," said Paul Berger, an attorney in Coral Springs who has filed about 50 lawsuits against the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association. "They felt they were above the law when it came to all this."

Homeowners formerly insured by one of three Poe affiliates had until June 2 to settle a claim or file a lawsuit. Roughly 1,000 suits, including more than 500 in South Florida, have been filed statewide.

Officials with the association could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, Michelle Lovern, deputy director of the agency, said more than $1 billion had been paid out for 45,193 customer storm claims.

Poe’s Atlantic Preferred Insurance Co., Florida Preferred Property Insurance Co. and Southern Family Insurance Co. went out of business following the hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

One of Berger’s clients, Mitchell Horowitz of Tamarac, sustained roof and water damage to his three-bedroom home in Hurricane Wilma in 2005 but still is waiting for money to make repairs.

"I’m very skeptical at this point," said Horowitz, 40. "This is something that should have been taken care of two years ago."

In one case, the association paid a claim after being hit with a lawsuit, said attorney Bob Reynolds of Coral Gables, whose Merlin Law Group has filed 238 suits against the agency.

"It was clear to me that unless the lawsuit was filed, my client was not going to get paid," Reynolds said.

He estimates it will take two or three months before most of the former Poe customers receive their checks. If the suits go to trial, it could be 12 to 18 months, Reynolds said.

Tampa-based Poe Financial Group was formed in 1996 and ballooned quickly by taking policies from state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in exchange for millions of dollars in state incentives. By 2006, it was the third largest private company insuring Florida properties.