Punta Gorda – Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher on Thursday took executives from several major insurance companies on aerial and ground tours of areas devastated by Hurricane Charley. Gallagher organized the visit so that executives charged with quickly paying claims in the storm’s aftermath could gain a personal understanding of the hardships faced by thousands of Floridians.
“For the victims of Hurricane Charley, there is real human tragedy,” Gallagher said. “That’s why I asked insurance executives to travel to Florida to see firsthand and meet personally with those affected by the storm, to ensure a prompt and compassionate response from insurance companies.”
Because of Thursday’s meeting, companies represented committed immediately to step up efforts to provide Additional Living Expenses (ALE) payments, mobilize more adjusters and promptly pay insurance claims. The department has received more than 6,700 calls, most regarding adjusters who have yet to arrive, and has opened nearly 400 complaint files.
In response to Hurricane Charley, Gallagher has also issued several emergency rules for public adjusters and proposed a 60-day grace period for insurance premium payments and non-renewals of homeowners insurance policies.
The emergency rules ban public adjusters from requiring cash up front to adjust claims for victims of Hurricane Charley and limit public adjuster fees to 10 percent of the claim amount. The rules also give consumers up to 14 days to back out of a contract without penalty.
“By limiting fees, it’s our hope that homeowners and business owners dealing with the aftermath of the storm know what to expect and aren’t scammed and gouged financially by public adjusters inflating their fees,” Gallagher said. Gallagher also said that while he was imposing a 10 percent cap on adjuster fees, policyholders are free to bargain with adjusters to get their services at lower rates.
Gallagher said he will ask Gov. Jeb Bush and other members of the Florida Cabinet, which also serves as the state’s Financial Services Commission, to co-authorize the 60-day insurance premium grace period and moratorium on non-renewals at the next Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
“We have residents who don’t have a roof over their heads, or even a way to receive mail and may not for weeks,” Gallagher said. “As we work to come to grips with the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, we will need to recognize extenuating circumstances for storm victims. We need to focus on helping our citizens and businesses get back on their feet.”
Gallagher will ask to extend these measures through Oct. 15 to storm victims in Brevard, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee, Lake, Lee, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, and Volusia counties, which have been declared as substantially affected counties.
Gallagher also is asking banks and credit unions to consider increasing credit card limits and credit lines, reducing or eliminating late fees on loans, granting temporary loan payment extensions, allowing customers to skip a loan or credit card payment, expediting loan applications, and waiving ATM and check-cashing fees for storm victims, even if they are not accountholders.
The Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees, has teams of investigators on the ground investigating reports of any unlicensed adjusters, inappropriate adjuster offers or contractors working without workers’ compensation insurance.
Department investigators arrested the owner of a tree service on Wednesday when they learned he was reportedly paying his workers in cash and did not have workers’ compensation insurance, as required by Florida law.
Mark Steven Link, 43, owner of Link Built Tree Experts of Royal Palm Beach, was arrested at the scene of a dispute with one of his customers in Port Charlotte. Contractors working without coverage can pose a financial risk to property owners.
The executives participating included: Bob Ricker, executive director of Citizens; Joe Formusa, president of State Farm Florida; Phil Lawson, president Allstate Floridian and Bob Pike, general counsel of Allstate Floridian; Doug Robinett, CEO of Nationwide Ins. and Mike Kaylor, president of Nationwide of Florida; Lee Ann Ned, senior corp. officer for Property and Casualty of USAA; Dan Eldridge, president of Mobile USA; Nancy Baily, president of First Floridian; Paul Condrin, vice-president for Claims of Liberty Mutual; Jim Wurdeman, president of Atlantic Preferred; Brian MacLean, Sr. vice-president for Claims of St. Paul Travelers; John Auer, president American Strategic; Bobby Bowden, vice-president for Property and Casualty; Bruce Howson, president of Qualsure; Mark Welzenbach, vice-president for Claims of Hartford Ins. of the Midwest; Billy Sanders, president of Vanguard; Don Matz, vice-president for Reinsurance of Tower Hill Preferred Ins. Select; Loni Lugo, chief marketing officer of Cypress; and Mark Davey, president of Fidelity National.
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