Hurricane Law Group Announces Lawsuit to Require the State of Florida to Compel Insurance Companies to Comply with Hurricane Mediation Statute
Apr 3, 2008
Insurance News Net--Apr. 2, 2008
National Desks/Business Editors/Legal Writers/Insurance Writers
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla.–The Hurricane Law Group announced today that it has filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County against CFO Alex Sink, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, the Department of Financial Services and the Office of Insurance Regulation to force the State to enforce Florida laws designed to protect Floridians in the wake of the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes.
The lawsuit alleges that there is substantial evidence to document insurance companies’ violations of both the spirit and the letter of State consumer protection laws by failing to notify homeowners of their statutory right to participate in mediation to resolve hurricane claims (Florida Statute §627.7015). Evidence documents that these violations were committed with the knowledge and approval of the Department of Financial Services and Office of Insurance Regulation.
As alleged in the lawsuit, by systematically depriving homeowners of their right to participate in mediation, insurance companies benefited by hundreds of millions of dollars. This benefit was at the expense of all Floridians and was gained by underpaying claims and saving mediation fees and expenses. This was done with the approval of State agencies entrusted with enforcing the mediation statute and preventing insurance companies’ profiteering by violating the law.
Since July 2007, the Hurricane Law Group has provided State agencies with concrete and undisputed evidence of widespread statutory violations by numerous insurance providers including Allstate, State Farm, Poe Financial Group (Florida Insurance Guaranty Association), and other major insurance carriers.
“We were shocked by the response of senior members of the Department of Financial Services,” stated Paul Berger, Managing Attorney of the Hurricane Law Group. “In essence, they acknowledged the violations and stated on numerous occasions that mediation was too expensive for insurance companies to continue with the program. Rather than upholding the laws of the State and protecting Floridians, these State agencies are protecting insurance companies at the expense of hurricane victims. Floridians were victimized first by the hurricane, then by their insurance carrier, and now by the State,” Mr. Berger stated.
As Governor Crist stated in his January 14, 2008 press release, “For too long, the [insurance] industry has profiteered on the backs of our people. Sometimes, big business can be just as bad as big government.” According to the Hurricane Law Group, in this case, big government and big business are working hand in hand to deprive Floridians of their right to a speedy recovery from hurricanes.
“We at the Hurricane Law Group felt that we had no other choice but to seek protection from the Court for Floridians,” stated Mr. Berger. “Unfortunately, the Governor has refused to intervene on behalf of Floridians, Consumer Advocate Terry Butler has done nothing, and Alex Sink and Commissioner McCarty’s offices have been delaying taking any action on this matter for months, despite admissions of violations of the law by the insurance companies themselves.”
As Commissioner McCarty stated when implementing the mediation program (Informational Memorandum OIR-06-004M), “The failure by insurers to timely process, settle and pay these claims delays the insured’s ability to repair damaged structures or replace lost property.” Now, as alleged in the lawsuit, his Office and the Department of Financial Services have effectively become mouthpieces for the insurance industry, and have eviscerated the system set forth by our legislature to ensure the prompt and fair settlement of claims. We are more than three years past the devastation of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, and two years past Hurricane Wilma, yet thousands of homeowners are still struggling to rebuild their homes and lives. It is appalling that Floridians are struggling to rebuild, when hundreds of millions of dollars in claims have been underpaid, and our elected officials have a solution that is readily available and costs the State nothing. The Hurricane Law Group calls for the Attorney General to investigate this matter, for as the lawsuit alleges, it appears that improper influence by the insurance industry has been applied to the highest members of our government.
Hurricane Law Group hopes that the Court will grant the relief sought and require our governmental bodies to enforce the consumer protection laws passed by the Legislature. A small group of politicians and lobbyists should never be able to undermine the will of the people and destroy such a beneficial program. The Hurricane Law Group continues to fight for what is right, even if it means taking on big government and big industry. A copy of the lawsuit is available at the Hurricane Law Group’s website www.hurricanelawgroup.com.
The Hurricane Law Group is a small private law firm based in Coral Springs, FL. The firm represents policyholders in cases arising out of hurricanes and other natural disasters. For more information on the firm, please visit us online at www.hurricanelawgroup.com.