MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s been a year since devastation hit Florida’s Panhandle by way of Hurricane Michael.
The City of Mexico Beach was leveled. Homes and businesses throughout the community were strewn into piles of rubble.
A year later, more than $6.9 billion in insurance losses have been reported to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.
Florida saw 148,347 insurance claims including residential, commercial, flood and business interruption reports.
Under Florida law, residential property insurers are supposed to pay their claims within 90 days of the claim being made and agreed upon by the insurance company. However, the law also allows insurance companies to take months to give the claimant an estimate.
More than 15,000 of the 20,484 insurance claims from the Panhandle that are still open come from Bay County, which is home to those hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.
The county started with 88,830 insurance claims, 17 percent of which still remain open.
Of the claims closed, commercial property has received the least attention. Only 62.4 percent of business claims have been closed in the 365 days since the hurricane.
Insurance companies saw 98,321 residential claims from people who call the Panhandle home. Nearly 85 percent of those claims so far have been closed.
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, who is originally from the Panhandle, has been pushing legislators and insurance companies to create more efficient recovery resources following Hurricane Michael.
Florida Insurance Regulation Commissioner David Altmaier released a memo in June reminding insurance companies of the thousands of claims still open following the Category 5 hurricane.
“Policyholders have the right to expect prompt, efficient and fair claims adjustment service, especially after a catastrophic loss,” Altmaier said in the memo. “The Office demands nothing less. Insurers should therefore concentrate their resources and energy on reaching out to policyholders with open Hurricane Michael claims and taking all actions necessary to bring the claim to closure as quickly as possible.”
St. Petersburg-based insurance attorney Charles Gallagher said there are options for those in the Panhandle still waiting for their claims to be resolved.
“The short version is that the courts are the main resource,” Gallagher said. “Most policies have an appraisal clause very much like arbitration. What happens is that the policyholder evokes the clause, meaning they appoint someone as their appraiser and the insurance companies do the same. If the two can agree on an estimate, then it’s taken care of. If they can’t agree, they’d appoint a judge to take the two estimates and decide the amount of the loss.”
An insured person may also file a civil remedy which, according to Gallagher, gets the ball rolling for filing a lawsuit against an insurer. Instructions on how to file a civil remedy can be found here.
As for a reason why there are still so many claims waiting to be processed, Gallagher guesses that it’s simply a matter of wading through the thousands of claims with not enough insurance employees able to assess the damage.
“My guess would be that there is just a large mass of claims creating a backlog of work for insurers,” Gallagher said. “They’ve cut off FEMA loss of use money. If your property is uninhabitable, you’re out of luck essentially.”
If you’re a policyholder, Gallagher said you may get to the front of the line if you trigger the clause.
“It shows that it’s a time-sensitive thing and your claim has to be acted upon before other folks,” he said.