500 Consumers Attend Punta Gorda, Fla. Town Hall Meetings; Gallagher, Insurance Reps Hear Complaints

March 14, 2005

More than 100 consumers spent five-and-a-half hours March 12 voicing their concerns about unpaid insurance claims in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley at a town hall meeting in Punta Gorda, Fla. attended by Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and his staff. During the meeting, attended by more than 500 consumers, companies such as Allstate, State Farm and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. set up offices at which they addressed policyholders’ complaints.

The event was Gallagher’s third of four town hall meetings scheduled this month. He heard every possible scenario, low-balling, getting the runaround and no answers at all.

Insurance companies claim to have settled 93 percent of all claims in Florida, but Gallagher said he doesn’t believe it. “What they consider settled and what I considered settled are very different,” he said.

There were 1.6 million insurance claims filed in Florida related to the 2004 hurricanes and even if the insurance companies are accurate, more than 130,000 still have not had their claims settled. An estimated 30 percent, or about 480,000, of all claims, are still in dispute.

Gallagher said that claimants are not getting their calls returned quickly enough. He said the state is going to make sure that the companies doing business in Florida in the future will have adequate financial resources and adequate system set up to respond to all the calls they get from claimants.

“It’s my goal that we get them the assistance they deserve,” said Gallagher. He said 90 percent of the people at the meeting were going to get some satisfaction, but admitted his agency could only do so much.

“We can apply some pressure on these companies but we can’t force them to do everything we would like,” he said.

March 17, during the next Florida Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, Gallagher plans to give insurance companies a 30-day deadline to settle outstanding hurricane claims. He said companies that are unable to finalize all the claims will have to provide a list of the ones they were not able to settle and the reasons.

Based on the complaints Gallagher said one of the easiest fixes he can propose is to make policies more clear. He plans to work to get legislation passed which would create a standard policy containing clear language about what deductibles people must pay.

Some of the complaints also centered on new building department provisions now requiring damaged structures to be built above the flood plain.

Gallagher and his staff will attend the final town hall meeting in Orlando March 19, 9 a.m. to noon, Dr. Phillips High School, 6500 Turkey Lake Road. For more information, call the Department of Financial Services’ storm hotline at 1-800-22-STORM or log on to www.fldfs.com.

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