State Mediators On Way to Charlotte County, Fla.

October 25, 2004

More than two months after Hurricane Charley victims started calling their insurance companies, some storm sufferers wonder if they will ever get the money they need to rebuild.

The state is offering a new program that could help victims get higher insurance settlements, but it has been met with a lukewarm response so far. Some have already given up, saying they’d rather move.

“It’s been so long, I’ve got additional damage, things I didn’t see,” Doris Gauthier said in Port Charlotte. “I’m going back north.”

Since Hurricane Charley struck Aug. 13, the state Department of Financial Services has fielded more than 70,000 phone calls, 17,000 of which came from residents asking for help with their insurance, agency spokeswoman Tami Torres said.

The high volume of complaints prompted Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher to announce that the state will set up mediation centers for residents who are unhappy with their settlement offers. One, located at the justice center in Punta Gorda, is scheduled to open Nov. 3.

The state has received 133 requests for mediation in the past two weeks, Torres said.

Insurance problems are reportedly a common gripe at Charlotte County’s Disaster Recovery Centers, where residents like Port Charlotte’s Gauthier complain of settlements that don’t come close to paying for Charley’s damage.

Gauthier said her insurance company offered her only $15,000, even though her home sustained $45,000 in damage and is uninhabitable. Without a place to live, she says she can’t wait for a fight with the company.

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