On June 24, 2012 Tropical Storm Debby came ashore from the Gulf of Mexico and stalled out over the central State of Florida for multiple days, subsequently inundating the State with heavy rain, wind, and tornadoes. The damage was so severe and widespread that our Governor Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency.
The damage that Debby caused to this property in Sumterville, FL consisted of wind damage, which toppled trees on to the roof and took down power lines on the property, ultimately short-circuiting the septic tank pump, causing a major backflow of raw sewage into the home for multiple days. The raw sewage and water penetration from the damaged roof above completely destroyed the interior of the home and all of its finishes including the marble tile floors, custom stonework, cabinetry, personal property, furniture items, financial records and personal medical supplies. The exterior of the home sustained extensive damage to the roof system, damage to the shed, guardhouse, front gate, tree and landscaping damage.
Immediately following the loss, the homeowner reported the claim and was told that a claim adjuster would be in touch to schedule an inspection of the damages. During that brief period of time, the homeowner felt confident that his insurance company was handling the claim. Little did he know, this would be farther from the truth.
Shortly after reporting his claim, the owner was contacted by a restoration company who said they were contacted by the insurance company and given instruction to come out to the property to perform the clean up. A few days after the storm passed, they started the clean up, but were quickly overwhelmed after observing the true extent of the damage, especially as it related to the amount of raw sewage in the home. After the insurance company’s initial inspection, the adjuster informed the homeowner that he would not be the person handling the claim as the damage was beyond his area of expertise stating that the insurance company would have to assign a Large Loss Adjuster.
During this period of time, the homeowner also consulted with his personal attorney and friend who recommended that he seek the professional services of a public insurance adjuster to help during the claims process. After interviewing a number of firms, Mr. Rick Tutwiler, of Tutwiler & Associates based in Tampa, Florida was asked to inspect the property on a Saturday afternoon and was immediately retained.
Following the initial inspection of the damage and claim situation, he expressed a great deal of concern due to the fact that the restoration company had workers inside the home performing work without knowing the true extent of the contamination or the potential health hazard effects. Specifically, Mr. Tutwiler advised that an Industrial Hygienist needed to perform a separate inspection and do the necessary testing to prepare a proper remediation protocol before any work was to be done. To the contrary, the Restoration Company stated to the public adjuster that they did not need an Industrial Hygienist report and that would just hold them up from performing their work. Proceeding as planned, the Restoration Company continued with their work, which consisted of removing all the personal belongings and furniture items that were directly affected by the sewage and piling them into storage pods with other items that were not directly affected. They did so with complete disregard or without cleaning or wiping down the belongings. The Restoration Company even went so far as to accuse the homeowner of removing a 20x10 foot long oriental rug from the living room, (albeit soaked in raw sewage) and replacing it with another one. Not only was this accusation incorrect, it was the breaking point in dealing with the Restoration Company. It was also very clear that the company was not working in the homeowner’s best interest.
Eventually, the homeowner received a letter from his newly assigned Large Loss Adjuster (whom he never met) advising that he received notification from the Restoration Company that he would not allow them to continue with the mitigation services, a decision that could jeopardize coverage for this loss.
Shortly thereafter, the Large Loss adjuster finally came to the property for the very first time and brought seven (7) people with him. Needless to say, the meeting was extremely controversial as the Large Loss adjuster used these people against the insured homeowner to make him feel as if he had done something wrong. The Large Loss adjuster further explained that the insurance company was still in its “fact gathering stage,” also asserting that there was no need for an Industrial Hygienist to be involved, even though he decided to bring one in at the repeated request of the public adjuster, Rick Tutwiler. Nevertheless, when the Large Loss adjuster and his team entered the home to inspect the damage, all of them wore full protective suit, mask, and respirator, but offered nothing to the homeowner while he guided them through his home. Following the inspection, the Large Loss adjuster stood by his Restoration Company stating they were performing all work according to industry standards. He also stated his opinion that the home did not present a health hazard for the Restoration Company or any of their workers.
A few weeks later, the homeowner received the report from the Industrial Hygienist and the results were shocking. The Industrial Hygienist concluded that the home was filled with all sorts of bacteria and various contaminates, even noting that it was truly an unsafe environment for anyone to work in without having the proper protective equipment. Of greater concern was the fact that the Restoration Company was not performing any of their work in accordance with the industry standards required of them. Ultimately, the Restoration Company ended up causing more harm than they did good. This also caused a major time delay in the repair process. The Restoration Company would later agree to part ways, but attempted to obtain a full release of any liability, which no one in their right mind would have signed.
Despite all the above, the “Large Loss” insurance adjuster continued to delay the claim sending the public adjuster an excessive amount of E-mails and letters titled “Lack of Cooperation,” essentially accusing all parties of not cooperating with him or the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. In addition, the adjuster repeatedly demanded a Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss in his attempts to intimidate the policyholder and end the claim. While everyone understands the insurance policy has a provision that requires this, the insured homeowner simply needed more time to determine the true extent of his damages, sort through the mess that the insurance companies restoration firm left behind and handle the multiple building code issues that the County was making him address to bring the home up to the current Florida Building Code.
Eventually, the owner hired another restoration firm who came and literally saved this claim from being the ultimate disaster, but when they submitted their emergency service invoice to the insurance company for payment, the company would not pay them. To protect themselves, they were forced to lien the house, and as soon as they did the insurance company finally paid.
Finally, months after the date of the loss, Superstorm Sandy hit the northeast and the Large Loss insurance adjuster simply left and abandoned the claim.
Almost one (1) year later and just prior to the homeowner filing a lawsuit, the insurance company settled the entire claim for $650,059, which was $500,000 over their original offer. All this could have been avoided if the insurance company would have simply listened to their policyholders concerns and treated him fairly. Truly, this is one of the worst cases that our office has been involved with and we are glad it was resolved to the owner’s satisfaction.