The Florida Legislature’s insurance rescue bill, approved last week, won’t take effect soon enough to help policyholders and insurance agents who’ve had no response from beleaguered United Property & Casualty Co. on Hurricane Ian claims.
The lack of information has meant that some Florida homeowners, with damaged roofs, blown-out windows, or rain-soaked belongings, also can’t receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which requires proof of insurance claims denials
“There’s been no denial, no communication, just nothing from United,” said Sylvia Van Dyke, an Englewood, Florida, resident who estimates her home received more than $60,000 in damage when Ian hit the area Sept. 28.
Van Dyke filed a claim with United on Oct. 3. By Florida law, insurers have 90 days to respond. That window is about to close, and so is another one: Van Dyke has applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration loan, but that, too, is barred until the homeowner can show her level of insurance payout. The SBA deadline is Jan. 12, Van Dyke said. Meanwhile, she’s paid out of her pocket for a new roof.
United, which had some 140,000 policies in force in Florida as of November, is now in an orderly runoff in Florida and other states after years of heavy underwriting losses. The runoff process is not an insolvency or liquidation. But in some ways it may be less certain than liquidation, in which the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association would take over most outstanding claims.
Insurance agents are feeling the heat from irate United policyholders, but without information from the insurer and from regulators, they don’t have many answers.
“It’s very frustrating for agents and for policyholders,” said Laura Pearce, vice president and general counsel for the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. “We’ve been getting a lot of the same questions.”
Pearce said that the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation may be working to transition some of United’s outstanding claims to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. OIR had not confirmed that by late Wednesday and a Citizens spokesman said corporation officials have not heard about such a plan.
United officials did not respond to calls and emails from Insurance Journal. OIR officials did not provide answers to questions about United’s lack of response.
Under Florida statutes, property insurers are barred from canceling homeowner policies after a state emergency order has been issued for a storm. The prohibition on cancellation extends until 90 after repairs have been made. And emergency orders from OIR, issued after Ian and Hurricane Nicole hit the state, underscored that and extended the time for insureds to provide information to their carriers.
A consent order on United’s runoff plan, approved early this month by OIR, requires United to extend coverage for some policies that were set for non-renewal but which weren’t properly notified. The company must provide 120 days’ notice on those non-renewals.
The consent order, signed by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, who leaves office next week, also notes that United must “have qualified and trained staff available to respond to policyholder inquiries” about cancellations.
But Van Dyke pointed out that her situation is not necessarily a cancellation. As yet, it’s not even a non-renewal or a claim denial.
Van Dyke, a former chief technology officer for the U.S. Patent Office, became so dissatisfied with United’s lack of response that last week she sent a letter to the company’s CEO, Dan Peed. The letter charged that United is violating her civil rights by preventing her from obtaining federal assistance for her home.
It’s not clear how many policyholders are in the same fix. In its third quarter financial report, United said it had expects to receive as many as 30,000 claims as a result of Hurricane Ian – about half as many as Citizens, the state’s largest property insurer. But the carrier has not said how many claims remain unpaid.
Van Dyke’s Englewood neighbor, Joan Riswold, who insured her home two years ago with United, is doubly frustrated because she’s seen other neighbors, insured by other carriers, get their claims paid promptly. And while she’s complained to OIR and communicated with staff, little has changed.
Riswold said she was recently able to reach one company representative by phone. The woman informed her that her roof claim had been closed. Riswold was shocked, since she had received nothing in writing from United. The homeowner said that United may have closed the claim because they had her hurricane deductible wrong – $2,000 higher than the policy states.
“This is not acceptable, not when we’ve all been through this (hurricane) experience,” she said.
Riswold is a retired nurse who spent most of her career in California. She said that after dealing with California’s government agencies and insurance companies on various matters, “I’m not used to this flagrant disregard for people’s needs.”
She said she recently took steps to hire an attorney.
It’s not just United that may be giving insureds and agents headaches in Florida’s distressed market after the costly hurricane. Pearce said that several carriers have been attempting to non-renew thousands of policies after Hurricane Ian, despite the Florida law that bars non-renewals while hurricane claims are pending.
“I think some carriers feel like they’re going to push the envelope until someone says they have to stay on the policy. It’s a big problem,” Pearce said.
And with Altmaier suddenly stepping down, and OIR’s chief deputy commissioner, Susanne Murphy, departing earlier this month, the regulatory office may not be in a position to flex its muscle on United or other carriers, at least for a few months, agents and insureds now fear.
Top photo: Sylvia Van Dyke’s roof, damaged by Hurricane Ian. (Courtesy, Sylvia Van Dyke)
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