CFO Gives Hurricane Response Status Report; Fla. Mediation Begins Nov. 22

November 12, 2004

Following a recent emergency rule setting deadlines for processing claims there have been almost 17 percent fewer calls from consumers experiencing delays when dealing with an adjuster, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Tom Gallagher, Florida Chief Financial officer, toured the recently opened Florida Hurricane Response Center in Punta Gorda, Fla. He said the first round of mediation meetings to help more than 600 Florida consumers resolve claim disputes will take place Nov. 22 at newly opened centers in Punta Gorda and Orlando.

Gallagher gave a hurricane status report on insurance companies’ response to storm victims coping with the recent storms. Following a recent emergency rule setting deadlines for processing claims, out of approximately 12,000 consumers who complained about adjuster delays, more than 75 percent have since received a response from their insurance company, with one of two positive outcomes: an adjuster visit was scheduled or settlement offered.

“For storm victims, getting their insurance claims settled so they can rebuild their homes this is the crucial first step on the road to recovery,” Gallagher said. “We’re hoping to make that process easier and faster by offering mediation for consumers having disputes with their insurance companies.”

Mediation centers located at the Charlotte County Justice Center, 350 E. Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda, and 8403 South Park Circle, Building 600, Suite 655 in Orlando, offer a non-binding and non-adversarial claims settlement process for storm victims at no cost to the consumer.

The mediation program, initiated by Gallagher, establishes a dispute resolution process for citizens who need help with resolving hurricane claims prior to pursuing other more costly options such as going to court. Mediation meetings will be scheduled and facilitated by court-certified mediators provided through the Collins Center for Public Policy. Nearly 45 mediators have been trained and will be available to handle mediation requests.

Under the program, if a policyholder disputes a claim settlement offer, the insurance company is required to notify the policyholder of his or her right to mediation. The insurance company will then have 21 days to resolve the claim before a mediation meeting can be scheduled. Policyholders can contact the department at 1-800-22-STORM to request mediation.

According to Gallagher, who was Insurance Commissioner when Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead in 1992, more than 80 percent of claims referred to mediation reach settlement, and more than 90 percent reach partial settlement.

An additional mediation sites is now open at 900 U.S. Highway One, River Plaza, Suite 207 in Jupiter, and at least one other site will soon open in Pensacola to serve panhandle residents affected by Hurricane Ivan. Gallagher plans to visit the Jupiter site within the next two weeks.

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