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The Gulf Today - Business - - SPECIAL REPORT -

Two months af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma, re­port­ing dam­ages to in­sur­ance com­pa­nies turned out to be the eas­i­est part of the re­cov­ery process for many Florida home­own­ers.

Set­ting the cost of re­pairs and get­ting work­ers out to fix the most se­verely dam­aged prop­er­ties is re­quir­ing a lot of pa­tience.

Car­los Vil­lanueva is still wait­ing for his in­sur­ance com­pany to de­ter­mine the cost of re­pair­ing roof dam­age, 16 struc­tural fis­sures and re­sult­ing mold and mois­ture at his coastal Mi­ami home.

“The process has been in­ef­fi­cient and rid­dled with lev­els of in­com­pe­tence,” Vil­lanueva said. Seven ad­justers - most of them con­tracted by his in­sur­ance com­pany from third-party providers - have in­spected his home.

Sev­eral times, the in­surer de­cided that an ad­juster it sent didn’t have enough ex­per­tise and dis­patched an­other ad­juster.

Tarps have been in­stalled on his roof four times, but each came loose and needed to be re­in­stalled.

“There are so many third-party ad­justers in­volved,” he said. “Co­or­di­na­tion has been dif­fi­cult.”

Not all Hur­ri­cane Irma claims have been so dif­fi­cult to re­solve. But many have been, in­dus­try of­fi­cials say, and the big­gest headaches most likely stem from the short­age of ad­justers avail­able af­ter hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma struck Texas and Florida in quick suc­ces­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to state data, 809,306 claims worth an es­ti­mated $5.6 bil­lion were filed with prop­erty and ca­su­alty in­sur­ers across Florida as of Nov. 3, the most re­cent re­port­ing date.

Of those, 264,409 were paid out and closed and 180,787 were closed with no pay­ment - usu­ally be­cause the dam­age did not ex­ceed pol­i­cy­hold­ers’ hur­ri­cane de­ductibles.

Yet nearly half - 364,110 re­mained open.

“Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma, the in­sur­ance car­ri­ers ex­celled through­out the claims re­port­ing process,” said Ryan Papy, pres­i­dent of Mi­amibased Tom Gal­lagher In­sur­ance and Keyes In­sur­ance in Pom­pano Beach. “The ser­vice was top-notch and claims were filed ef­fi­ciently.”

Af­ter ini­tial dam­age in­spec­tions are com­plete, the fo­cus turns to set­tle­ments and re­pairs.

“The sec­ond phase, which we are in cur­rently, is the as­sess­ment pe­riod which pri­mar­ily is car­ried out by third-party ad­justers,” Papy said. “This process has been frus­trat­ing to say the least for many in­sured. Many prop­erty own­ers have dealt with de­lays, mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent in­spec­tors, and an over­all lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion on their claim. There is a lot left to be de­sired.”

Nancy Dominguez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Florida As­so­ci­a­tion of Pub­lic In­sur­ance Ad­justers, say she has taken nu­mer­ous calls from pol­i­cy­hold­ers frus­trated with their in­sur­ers’ re­sponses.

Un­like ad­justers who work for in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, pub­lic ad­justers are hired by pol­i­cy­hold­ers to work with in­sur­ers on their be­half to de­ter­mine how much money should be paid to re­pair dam­age.

Calls for help from pub­lic ad­justers usu­ally peak about two months af­ter a ma­jor storm, Dominguez said. “They say, “I tried to deal with the in­sur­ance com­pany di­rectly and they sent me a check for $1,200. What can I do with that?”

Much of the post-irma frus­tra­tion stemmed from deal­ing with catas­tro­phe ad­justers quickly trained and su­per­vised un­der Gov. Rick Scott’s Sept. 4 emer­gency au­tho­ri­sa­tion al­low­ing sus­pen­sion of nor­mal cre­den­tial­ing re­quire­ments, Dominguez said.

One such ad­juster was dis­patched to an English-speaker’s home de­spite not know­ing how to speak English, Dominguez said.

Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, “the cream of the crop” of in­de­pen­dent in­sur­ance ad­justers headed to Texas to work for in­sur­ance com­pa­nies there, Papy said. Then, when Irma looked likely to strike Florida, in­sur­ers here were forced to com­pete to se­cure ser­vices from ad­justers who didn’t go to Texas.

“By the time res­i­dents of South Florida needed them, there were slim pick­ings,” Papy said.

Papy said he un­der­stands why home­own­ers forced to wait weeks for their in­sur­ers to send ad­justers to their homes turn to out­side help like pub­lic ad­justers and at­tor­neys.

“In­sur­ance com­pa­nies want to con­trol who goes to the home, and I un­der­stand that,” Papy said. If they set re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions for how long home­own­ers will have to wait for ad­justers, most home­own­ers would re­main pa­tient, he said. But when ad­justers re­peat­edly fail to show up when an in­surer says they’ll show, peo­ple lose con­fi­dence and seek out­side help, he said.

Yet, Paresh Pa­tel, CEO of Home­own­ers Choice In­sur­ance, one of the state’s largest in­sur­ers, says in­volve­ment by pub­lic ad­justers has caused claims-han­dling de­lays at his com­pany.

“We’re see­ing peo­ple who signed up with pub­lic ad­justers and we’re hav­ing trouble get­ting to that claim be­cause the pub­lic ad­juster is back­logged,” Pa­tel said. “We got 300 new claims last week and those have not been seen yet.”

For Pa­tel, the big­gest road­block to get­ting past Hur­ri­cane Irma is the short­age of con­struc­tion work­ers.

Builders were com­plain­ing about a lack of skilled work­ers be­fore the storms hit. Now the prob­lem is worse, they say.

Carol Bowen, lob­by­ist for the Florida East Coast Chap­ter of the As­so­ci­ated Builders and Con­trac­tors Inc., said de­mand for work­ers to fix homes af­ter Irma is squeez­ing labour avail­abil­ity for com­mer­cial builders.

Mario Mandi­eta, owner of Mandi­eta Roof­ing Corp. in West Palm Beach, says all roof­ing com­pa­nies he knows are suf­fer­ing from a short­age of labour. Eight roofers cur­rently work for them, com­plet­ing about three to four jobs a week, he said. If he had six or 10 more, his com­pany could com­plete up to 10 jobs a week, he said.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to find good roofers,” he said.

Vil­lanueva, who says he’s still wait­ing for his in­surer to send a con­trac­tor to in­stall a fifth tem­po­rary tarp on his roof, re­cently re­ceived one piece of good news from his in­surer:

Even though it hasn’t yet ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for the struc­tural dam­age to his home, it told him it would cover the cost to in­stall a new roof.

But be­cause of the back­log, he was told, that work can’t start un­til Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary.

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