Fla. Begins Hurricane Victim Dispute Mediation Program Following Storms

October 12, 2004

Disgruntled storm victims dissatisfied with their insurers now have an option intended to expedite settlements and keep the disputes out of court — mediation, at the industry’s expense. About 2 million Floridians are expected to file insurance claims for hurricane-related property damage, and the state is preparing to dispatch mediators to help resolve a record number of disputes between insurers and policyholders.

The mediation program, the brainstorm of Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who launched a similar program in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew, will bring homeowners and insurers to the table with court-certified mediators overseen by the Collins Center for Public Policy.

The mediators are expected to preside over as many as 30,000 of the residential cases, far surpassing the 10,000 mediation requests in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

“For many storm victims, they feel they haven’t been treated fairly by their insurance companies,” said Gallagher, who awarded the mediation contract to the Collins Center for Public Policy, a nonprofit organization.

The center has 20 mediators on hand and is preparing to train another 30 mediators to handle the caseload. In its own announcement about the program, the center said it anticipated 2,000 to 6,000 claims.

Among the issues to be resolved by the center’s mediators are disputes over the insured’s coverage amount, the amount required for alternative living expenses and the reasonableness and necessity of construction and other expenses.

The first mediation center will open “soon” in Charlotte County, Gallagher said, followed by offices in Fort Pierce, south Orlando and Pensacola, “so people can get their money as soon as possible and get their homes repaired as soon as possible.”

State insurance officials are working on 11,000 cases and have logged nearly 60,000 telephone reports of complaints, Gallagher’s spokeswoman said.

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