TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Things are still not back to normal for many Floridians who were hit by Hurricane Ian more than six months ago.
Many families struggle to navigate the confusing claims process and pay for home repairs.
8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi is pressing state regulators for answers about the trial.
Last month we told you about allegations made during a State House hearing.
In December, after Hurricane Ian, when thousands of Floridians were still waiting for their insurance to pay out, three insurance professionals went before the Florida House Commerce Committee and testified that their damage estimates had been changed.
Regulators said their estimates were altered to reduce payouts to storm victims.
“They need to stop changing our ratings and putting our names on them,” said Florida Licensed Insurance Adjuster Mark Vinson.
“There are some serious allegations,” said Mark Friedlander of the Insurance Information Institute. Mark spent 13 years with an insurance company in Jacksonville.
A few weeks later, two state investigations were launched.
8 On Your Side wanted to know when and how the regulator’s assessment can legally be changed. But it turns out that new Florida Insurance Commissioner Michael Jaworski won’t answer that question.
Friedlander says that usually when you report a claim to your insurance company, they assign an adjuster to the scene to inspect and give you an estimate of your loss.
But regulators on the ground don’t have the last word.
Ultimately, coverage decisions are made by bureau regulators and insurance companies.
So when and how can field regulator ratings be changed?
“The allegation is that the ratings were changed without the regulator’s consent, but the regulator’s name is still on the document, is it okay to do that?” asked investigator Mahsa Saeidi.
“This is clearly not standard operating procedure in the property casualty industry,” Friedlander said. “If it’s been significantly changed, for whatever reasons, it wouldn’t be appropriate to keep the field regulator’s name there without their consent.”
But not everyone agrees with Friedlander.
Other insurance industry insiders told 8 On Your Side in the past that they can and do change field adjuster ratings routinely without consent.
So to get a straight answer, we went to Jaworski, the man in charge of regulating insurance companies. We have repeatedly asked his office to answer the question. They refused a direct answer. First we were sent a link to a user toolkit, directing us to two pages that did not answer the question.
They then sent us a law to analyze, FS 626.9541 Unfair Methods of Competition and Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices.
But given that this potentially affects every single insurance company and millions of Floridians, it’s not a reporter’s job to interpret regulations, answer outstanding questions and provide guidance to an entire industry.
We’re not the only ones trying to get an answer. State Sen. Travis Hutson, the sponsor of the insurer accountability bill, wants to force insurance companies to disclose who makes changes to estimates and why.
The state has not accused any specific insurance company of wrongdoing in connection with the insurance adjuster’s claims.
If you have advice for Mahsa, email her at [email protected]