A colleague recently sent me an opinion piece from the Palm Beach Post written by the President and CEO of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Florida’s state run insurer of last resort.
While purporting to looking out for the interests of its policyholders, and Florida taxpayers in general, Gilway addresses the mounting criticism from insurance professionals, politicians, and the public alike over the carrier’s handling of litigation and claims in general. It comes as no surprise that Gilway blames everyone except his own people for the lengthy claims process and ever expanding litigation costs, instead blaming greedy policyholders and a “cottage industry” of adjusters, trial lawyers, and contractors. Gilway goes on to state that Citizens retained “litigation coordinator” is doing a good job making “it crystal clear that [Citizens] will go to the mat on inflated or meritless claims and taking “excessive, meritless or fraudulent claims to court.” Gilway touts the purported “settlements” reached with hundreds of sinkhole claimants, supposedly the result of its coordinate effort to resolve claim in a way that “everybody wins.”
This might be well and good, if it were only true. The facts are the facts, no matter how Gilway wants to skew them. First, the “coordinating counsel” retained by Citizens, attorney Scott Link appears to have no discernible experience in property insurance claims or litigation. That being the case, why did Citizens retain his firm at a cost of over 6 million dollars, to coordinate just these types of claims? Aside from his well documented personal relationships with Governor Scott, Gilway, and others, why was he retained when there were many people with more experience to choose from.
The settlements are also a misnomer. In reality there was no “settlement” reached with over 300 sinkhole claimants. Instead there was an agreement between Citizens and one particular law firm that allowed claimants to choose whether they wished to settle. I have personally been contacted by a number of people saying that their claims are not being settled in accordance with the offer and have only heard of a handful of the 300 claimants actually agreeing to accept the settlement. While Gilway and Citizens were quick to publicize the supposed “settlement”, and the supposed millions in cost savings, the question remains why they did not supply the whole truth about the agreement reached and disclose the actual number of policyholders that agreed to accept.
While Gilway says he is “encouraged” by the success that the coordinating counsel program has brought, he provides no figures on the amounts saved, the case settled, or the trials won. If the program has been as successful as stated, why are those figures not being provided to the public that Citizens purports to be protecting. How many so called “inflated or meritless claims” has Citizens tried and what were the results? How many cases have been dismissed because of alleged fraud? Those of us who keep up with the current state of litigation over property damage claims haven’t seen a large amount of settlements or adverse trial verdicts. On the contrary claims and litigation seem to be taking longer which only increases the need for policyholders to retain public adjusters and attorneys as well as incur additional time and expenses of litigation.
Finally, Gilway insinuates that policyholders should be able to trust Citizens to get their homes repaired by “competent contractors” (chosen from a pre-approved list from Citizens). Gilway says that if a dispute arises “Citizens will abide by the rulings of the [statutorily appointed] neutral evaluator.” The problem is, Citizens has a track record of refusing to accept the neutral evaluation findings and recommendations. I have multiple cases dealing with this exact issue, including one where Citizens invoked neutral evaluation, was unilaterally responsible for picking the neutral evaluator, and then refused to accept the recommendations and settle the claim. Instead, Citizens has decided to continue with litigation and stick by its previous, incorrect, recommendation. Given these actions, why should anyone trust Citizens and agree to such a settlement?
While Citizens likes to flaunt its statutory immunity to “bad faith” it does have an obligation to look out for its policyholders. It sure seems like Citizens is paying lip service to this obligation, but actions speak louder than words.