Fifteen months. That’s how long it’s been since Hurricane Michael upended the lives of many Floridians living in the panhandle. For some of them, not much has changed since. They blame that on insurance companies. Tuesday Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis held a press conference with victims of the Category 5 Hurricane to highlight legislation he says will help speed up the process.
"After Hurricane Michael my house was just torn to pieces it was very difficult. We have grandchildren living with us, we have children living with us and then we had to find a place for everyone to stay," explained Davis.
That’s Sandra Davis a homeowner in Bay County. To get help she called her insurance company. That’s when the problem got worse.
"Each time I called I got someone different. I wrote down all the information every time I spoke with someone. When I would call at the end of all of this I went back and counted 15 adjusters," claimed Davis.
Davis wanted better treatment from the insurance company she’d been making payments to.
"That’s just not acceptable, not at all. Because we’re not insurance people we’re homeowners. This is the first time I’ve ever made a claim," exclaimed Davis. "I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Months later Jimmy Patronis’s office had an insurance village. So I took my lunch time, I told my boss I really need to talk to someone that can help me.
The help she got was a direct line to an insurance adjuster at the insurance companies’ home office. But the repairs still haven’t been finished.
"Fifteen months later I do not have a ceiling. I only have one room that’s completely finished," said Davis.
There are many more people like Davis, Patronis says.
“Melaine Hardwick’s home was a total loss following Hurricane Michael. She lost everything down to the concrete slab and didn’t receive a dime till after seven months of fighting with her insurance company," said Patronis.
“After my husband passed, I purchased a home in Mexico Beach, Florida in 2014," explained Hardwick. "It was going to be my retirement home; I took my retirement savings. And of course the first thing I did was to go purchase flood insurance and wind insurance I wanted my investment to be protected.”
Hardwick bought a home she planned on renovating. She put her retirement savings into remodeling it and went through the proper process to make sure in the event of a storm, she’d be protected.
“Shortly after I finished the renovations Hurricane Michael hit. And I lost my home, I lost everything it was all gone. All I have left is a slab," claims Hardwick.
Hardwick says she thought the process would be straight forward once the insurance company saw there is no home on the lot. But that’s not what happened. First, she filed a claim with Homeowners Choice, her wind insurance company.
"Every Monday I had it on my calendar I would call them. Many times if I left a message they didn’t return my call; they didn’t return my emails," said Hardwick. "So you can imagine my shock when one day I called again and I was told I was denied my claim was denied because there was no wind damage."
No wind damage during a Category 5 Hurricane that reached 160 mph, Hardwick says she found that odd and asked for further explanation.
“I asked them what proof they had they said they took photographs and they said they had an engineer’s report," explained Hardwick. "I asked for a copy till this day they have never provided me with the photos or the engineers report."
She says her flood insurance only paid her a third of what the home was worth.
“I still don’t have enough money to rebuild my home. All I have till this day is a concrete slab," said Hardwick.
Hardwick calls it “highway robbery.”
“I paid my premiums and they neglected, two companies, to fulfill their contract. In my view the way that Homeowner’s Choice treated me was right up there with criminal. They took my money and they didn’t hold up with their end of the contract," explained Hardwick.
That’s where CFO Jimmy Patronis comes in.
"This is a first step forward to changing the culture that favors insurance companies, public adjusters, contractors and attorneys over Floridians," claimed Patronis.
Patronis is putting his weight behind a bill he calls the Consumer Protection Act. It has several elements.
"We must ensure that Floridians have the information about their coverage before the hurricane starts," said Patronis. "We must communicate, our insurance companies must communicate when they send a partial payment or initial estimate,"
Another portion of the bill would help people like Sandra Davis who needed to quickly start rebuilding her home so her children and grandkids could have a roof over their head.
"The law requires that insurance companies settle claims within 90 days did not apply to every insurance carrier. Well that change is starting today," announced Patronis.
The bill would also extend the time period a consumer can cancel a contract with a property adjuster. It prohibits insurance policies sold in Florida from requiring business to be done outside of Florida. And it removes a requirement that an insured pay $100 deductible to receive payment on their claim.
The measure is sponsored by Port Orange Republican Senator Tom Wright and Jonesville Republican Representative Chuck Clemons. The measure is moving through both chambers.