The Tampa Bay Times was right to highlight the needs of Hurricane Michael victims in its recent editorial. One year since the devastating Cat 5 storm made landfall, the wounds are still fresh. Recovery will take years.
The residents and communities in the affected areas need our continued help. But the Times was wrong to imply that insurance companies are more concerned with making money than serving the needs of their customers. The facts tell a different story.
There were approximately 150,000 Hurricane Michael claims filed after the storm made landfall, and new claims are being filed every day.
What was left unsaid by the Times is that the vast majority of claims have been closed: 88 percent, according to the latest data published by the Office of Insurance Regulation. Insurers have paid out almost $7 billion in claims to Floridians recovering from the storm.
Of the 150,000 claims, just over 17,000 of them remain open — it is important to clarify that nearly 10,000 of those are “reopened” claims.
A typical reopened claim occurs when the homeowner discovers damage that was not included in the original claim. For example, the homeowner may have filed a claim for roof damage, and then weeks or even months later discovered additional damage. In that case, the homeowner would contact his or her insurer to make them aware of the damage.
This “reopened” claim is included with the original claim, making it appear to take longer to resolve.
This common occurrence doesn’t reflect an undue delay in the handling of the claim.
The latest data also tells us a smaller amount of Michael claims — 3,300 — are being disputed. These will take time to resolve. When a homeowner and an insurance company have a dispute over a claim, the homeowner may file a lawsuit.
Litigation can delay final resolution for months or even years. Unfortunately, public adjusters and trial lawyers solicit claims from homeowners with the goal of inflating the cost and encouraging litigation.
Contributing to delays may also be instances of post-Michael Assignment of Benefits abuse.
Claims should be resolved promptly. But it is important to understand the potential barriers that force a claim to go beyond the so-called 90-day “prompt pay” period.
A claim may remain open if the homeowner cannot find a contractor to perform repair work or if they are waiting to pay a vendor. The Panhandle needs help rebuilding. There are projects that demand contractors and tradesmen, and there are not enough to handle all the projects.
A lack of engineers and other specialists to help evaluate damages can also lengthen the time it takes to close a claim. In the case where you cannot remain in your home and need living expenses from your insurer while your home is being rebuilt, the claim may remain open.
We know claim filing does not stop when the wind stops — new claims from Michael may continue to come in as late as three years after the event. Our work will not be done until every Hurricane Michael claim is resolved.
We are committed to serving the needs of homeowners in Northwest Florida and will do our part in restoring affected communities.
Michael Carlson is the president and CEO of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a statewide property and casualty trade association.