Florida Insurer Launches New Effort to Reduce Expensive Litigation

Water Damage, Polaroid Camera

According to an article in the Sun Sentinel Times published in the Sunday newspaper, July 6, 2014, Citizens Insurance Corporation has faced an onslaught of customer lawsuits related to water damage claims. Half of all claims state-wide for Citizens are water-related, and in a 42 month period, they averaged 385 disputed water claims per month.

The Citizens report cited in the article reveals that 96% of all lawsuits related to water damage originated in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties over the last few years, costing the insurer $135.5 million in litigation fees over a five year period. The article states that many claims are resolved satisfactorily to both the owner and the insurer before getting to court, but even these have involved costly fees.

The article states:

Most often, water-loss claims result from leakage or breaks in a home’s plumbing….The legal disputes drive up Citizens’ costs, which leads to higher premiums for customers.

This has led to the creation of a Citizens team, stationed in South Florida, whose mission is to resolve water claims without litigation whenever possible. This specialized team will try to reduce the number of claims that end up in our costly adversarial court system.

Christine Ashuburn, Vice President of communications related to legislative and external affairs had this to say:

Staff in South Florida will give Citizens the ability to provide a higher level of training on policy language and estimated damages that will result in better claims decisions.

The article highlights a frequent point of contention in water damage claims: long-term leaks. “Citizens’ policies require homeowners to report damages within 14 days of a pipe’s breaking or other leakage.” It is important for homeowners to understand their policy language and report claims within the contractual framework of the policy. Long-term damage such as dry rot or wood decay is not covered under Citizens’ current policy language, according to the article.

Over the last year, Omega Forensic Engineering has conducted its own controlled study of water damage, and has succeeded in identifying characteristics of water damage common to different types of wood products, based on the duration and repetition of their exposure to water. This data gives Omega’s engineers a valuable objective basis on which to estimate the age of claimed water damage.

Omega Forensic Engineering is in the process of developing a certified class on water damage that will be offered to insurance adjusters for CE credits.

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