Citizens Changes Underwriting Guidelines to Include Sinkhole Properties

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Citizens Property Insurance Corporation has recommenced issuing policies on homes with prior sinkhole claims.  The new changes to Citizens’ underwriting guidelines, approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, now allow policies for properties that have had repairs from prior sinkhole damage.

The underwriting rules require that homeowners be able to prove, with documentation and photographs, that the sinkhole damage on their property has been repaired pursuant to recommendations from approved engineers.  Homeowners who can show that their sinkhole damage has been partially repaired, or repaired using alternative methods can also still be covered under the new policies for some perils, but the new policies may not include coverage for a sinkhole in Florida.

Sinkholes form when limestone dissolves bedrock over time, and the surface land collapses.  Depending on the circumstances, they can be filled with dirt, sand or concrete to support the foundation of a home.  At one time, all Florida homeowner policies were required to have sinkhole coverage, but after years of insurance companies complaining that many sinkhole claims were fraudulent, and sinkhole claims tripling from 2006-2010, the Florida legislature passed a law limiting sinkhole coverage in 2011.

The new insurance coverage availability with Citizens, which went into effect on Oct. 31, is especially significant in Pasco and Hernando Counties, where real estate sales and property values sank in part because an estimated 20,000 properties were not insurable due to sinkhole risk.  Homeowners with prior sinkhole claims did not qualify for property or storm coverage, even if the sinkhole damage was repaired.

Now, homeowners and potential buyers in the Tampa-area counties of Pasco, Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas, known collectively as “Sinkhole Alley”, can apply for mortgages that require insurance, when they previously would not qualify due to sinkhole damage.

The announcement for Citizens’ underwriting changes regarding sinkhole properties was made in New Port Richey, Fl. at a Nov. 20 meeting held by the Florida Association for Insurance Reform (FAIR) and the Pasco County and Hernando County Realtors.  In the week before the announcement, two homes in Dunedin, located in Pinellas County, were swallowed by a 90-foot wide sinkhole, and residents in several nearby homes were evacuated until the sinkhole was determined to be stable enough to be filled.

Adult Literacy Spelling Bee

Author George R.R. Martin said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.”  While that is a powerful statement, did you know that only one in every five Central Florida adults reads at or below the fifth grade level?  This is exactly what the Adult Literacy League is trying to change.  This volunteer and donation based organization is attempting to change the world of those who have trouble reading “one page at a time.”

On October 24, 2013, The Adult Literacy League held an event they called “Lawyers for Literacy Spelling Bee” at the Doubletree by Hilton in Downtown Orlando.  In this event was Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law’s own Michael Grossman!  Not only did he do a fantastic job, but he was also very glad to be a part of such event.  I had the chance to interview Mr. Grossman about the spelling bee.

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CB:  What do you think about the Adult Literacy League?

Michael Grossman: It’s really an amazing program being run by amazing people.  Literacy is such an important skill, whether you’re looking for work, reading labels on food at the grocery store, or trying to read a bedtime story to your child.  It’s easy to take for granted how important and necessary reading is in our day-to-day lives.  For adults who are illiterate, whether because English is not their first language or they did not have the benefit of an early education, the Adult Literacy League is life-changing.  I have the highest degree of respect for their volunteers and staff, this is an extremely noble cause that has a profound impact on our communities.

CB: How did you feel about being a part of the event?

Michael Grossman:  It was an honor, but to be completely honest, also a little nerve-racking.  When the Young Lawyers Section of the Orlando Bar Association contacted me the day before the event due to a last-minute cancellation, I was happy to fill-in but really nervous.  After all, the other competitors had over a month to study the list of words to be used while I didn’t even recognize about 10% of the words on the list!  Fortunately, the structure of the spelling bee meant I would not be alone, and was assigned a partner, Terri Spoon.  Terri was an amazing speller and instrumental in our success.

CB: Did you struggle at any point, and what was the hardest word they had you spell?

Michael Grossman:  The partnership between myself and Terri was really clutch.  She was a tremendous help for any words with which I was struggling.  I can’t remember all the words they gave us, but a couple tough ones that come to mind are vicissitude, precocious, and peccadillo.

CB: What place did you come in?

Michael Grossman:  Winner, winner chicken dinner, we came in first place!

CB: Is this something that you would do again if you had the opportunity?

Michael Grossman:  Without question.  It was a fantastic event, Judge LeBlanc was an affable and charismatic MC, and everyone really had a great time helping a worthy cause.

 

It was great to have someone from Cohen Battiti, Attorneys at Law not only at the event, but to take first place in it!  Keep that in mind the next time you are in need of legal attention. 

At Cohen Battisti, initial consultations are always free and confidential.  We have a very experience group of attorneys and legal staff ready to assist you with your needs!  Call Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law today at 407-478-4878, or go to www.CohenBattisti.com.  Remember, at Cohen Battisti, “It’s About Justice!”

 

Hurricane Sandy – One Year Later

Hurricane season 2013 continues to roll on.  However, today’s date marks a tragic event in hurricane history.  Today, October 29, 2013, is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy: the super storm the rocked the North East.

Not only were billions of dollars worth of damage and some 366,000 structures damaged during the storm, but an estimated 160 people in the United States lost their lives.  Many more lost their homes.  Today, there are still thousands of people who are still trying to get back to what they called home.

If you are in the restoration industry, you know it may be extremely difficult to get insurance companies to pay out during tragic events such as this.  In the state of Florida, law firms such as Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law know this well, and are here to make sure that insurance companies pay you (the restoration company) for the work you’ve done.

The Huffington Post has a great article featuring interactive before (destruction) and after (reconstruction) pictures with a slider to go back and forth between the images.  This is a screen shot of one of them.

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Courtesy of the Huffington Post

Reports say that Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest US cyclone outside of the southern states since Hurricane Agnes of 1972.  The National Hurricane Center said the Sandy ranks of the second-costliest tropical cyclone on record, after Hurricane Katrina of 2005.

Hurricanes cannot be prevented, but you can prepare for them.  During hurricane season, always make sure that you have, and follow a hurricane checklist of some sort.  If you are a restoration company, make sure you get paid for your work by using an Assignment of Benefits contract.  Experienced law firms such as Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law are able to help you with this.

The North East took a hard hit, but they are getting back on their feet.  The battle still isn’t over though.

How to get an Attorney for Free!

There are a lot of times where you might not want to hire an attorney because it may cost you too much.  There are other times where you might hire an attorney and if your case prevails, a large some of your money goes to the attorney to cover the fees and costs.  This can be quite frustrating.  Ever wonder what areas of Law are covered by the other party at fault?  Well, in the state of Florida, there are some very consumer friendly statutes.

If you are a Restoration Company:

In the state of Florida there is a statute (Florida Statute 627.428) known as the “fee shifting statute”.  This is used when an insurance carrier denies a claim and the restoration company does not get paid for the work they performed. The “fee shifting statute” allows the company to hire an attorney to collect the money and the attorney collects the fees and costs separately from the insurance company if the case is successfully resolved in favor of the restoration company.

What does this mean?  Say you are owed $10,000 for your work.  An experienced attorney such as Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law, will attempt to collect the $10,000 dollars that you are owed from the insurance company.  After that, the attorney(s) will then acquire the attorneys’ fees and cost separately from the insurance carrier.  In most cases, you will never have to pay anything to the attorney, and the attorney will not charge a percentage from the money collected. Continue reading

Are You Working Under A Tip Credit?

Let’s face it: if you’re working as a server or bartender, tips can be your lifeline.  If you work in the state of Florida, and you are under a tip credit, there are certain job duties that you are not required perform, and certain things you should know to make sure you are being compensated correctly.

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What is a Parenting Plan?

Are you going through a divorce, or are you already separated and have children?  A parenting plan may help you deal with future headaches that may arise.  So what is a parenting plan?  Melissa Migdalski from Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law gives you the who, what, when, where, and whys of a parenting plan.

If you need an experience family law attorney that is there for you when you need it, give Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law a call at 407-478-4878.  You can also go online to www.CohenBattisti.com for a free consultation.

Citizens’ Litigation Costs Tailspin in Sea of Claim Denials and Dropped Policies

Citizens’ 1.2 million policyholders should be outraged.  A recent report revealed that Citizens collects $2.2 billion in annual premiums, but monthly, pays an average $2 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees for lawsuits filed due to Citizens’ failure to pay insurance claims.

Over the past three years, Citizens paid more than $16 million to plaintiffs’ lawyers who prevailed in disputes over claim denials, coverage, and payment issues.  It is estimated Citizens spends more than $30 million per year defending these lawsuits, although Citizens reported that data was not yet available.

Citizens’ litigation costs have skyrocketed as the number of homeowner claims have increased, particularly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, along with the insurer’s claim denials and the delays in claims handling and payment affecting policyholders.

But not many policyholders will remain with Citizens for long if Citizens continues to have its way.  Florida’s insurer of last resort received approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation to shed 400,000 policies by November and another 200,000 policies in December.  The policies are being transferred to several other private Florida insurance companies, and policyholders will have the option to stay with Citizens or switch to the private insurer.

“I think this practice is outrageous,” states Harvey V. Cohen, managing partner of Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law.

President and CEO of Citizens, Barry Gilway, calls the reduction in policies an “unprecedented success.”  Notably, Citizens also just received approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation to increase premiums next year by an average 6.3 percent.  This is lower than Citizens’ original request for a 7.9 percent increase.

With millions of dollars going toward plaintiffs lawyers who successfully bring challenges against Citizens for breach of contract for claim denials and delays, and the ongoing costs of defending lawsuits, Floridians and their government representatives should keep a close eye on Citizens and expect more grand-scheme changes in both insurance policies and Citizens’ internal policies in the coming months.

Contact Cohen Battisti, Attorneys at Law, if Citizens or any insurance company has denied, delayed or defriended your claim.