ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A 59-year-old St. Petersburg woman is the latest victim of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s bad-faith practices, according to her attorney.
Martha Henderson, a Pinellas County school district secretary and Citizens policyholder for 15 years, filed a claim with Citizens to have the roof repaired on her 2,369-square-foot home after storms ripped through Pinellas County in September of 2019, but Citizens says outright some of the damage was caused by the homeowner herself, according to Citizens’ letter denying her coverage.
Henderson filed her claim in mid-October of 2019, a few months after storms damaged Henderson’s property and others around her.
This left Henderson’s roof with damaged and completely missing shingles.
More than six months later, Henderson received a letter from Citizens stating she would not be covered for the damage. According to Citizens’ denial of coverage letter, Henderson’s claim was denied because a portion of her roof’s damage was “man-made” and “intentional” following an inspection conducted by Citizens.
While the accusation that she damaged her own roof is something Henderson vehemently denies, her roof would still be covered under the concurrent causation doctrine, which states that when multiple perils contribute to a loss, coverage is allowed if at least one cause of the loss is covered by the policy.
In Henderson’s case, this holds true.
In fact, Citizens’ own engineer who inspected the roof, Byron Anderson, stated in his inspection report and sworn deposition that there appeared to be 12 instances of “damage consistent with a wind event” to Henderson’s 15-year-old roof, which Henderson’s policy covers.
Nonetheless, Citizens denied Henderson the coverage, leaving her to live with a damaged roof ever since.
But Derek Hendricks, Henderson’s attorney at Jenkins Law, refuses to let Henderson become another victim of Citizens.
“Martha Henderson, who has been a loyal, paying customer of Citizens for a decade and a half, should not have to go through the rigmarole of filing a claim and waiting six months with a damaged roof just to be denied coverage she is rightfully owed,” said Hendricks. “The strategy of ‘delay, deny, defend’ has become regular practice for Citizens and something policyholders see from them thousands of times a year.”
Henderson’s case is scheduled to go to trial in April of 2022, leaving her to live under a damaged roof until then.
Unfortunately, Henderson’s case is not an isolated incident. David Crosby, a third-party public adjuster and founder of Bay Area Public Adjuster, as well as a consultant in Henderson’s case, says this is one of too many instances where Citizens looks to avoid paying its policyholders what they’re owed.
“More than three-quarters of the nation’s homeowners insurance lawsuits happen right here in Florida and it’s because of businesses like this,” says Crosby. “Citizens never has to face the music, so in their mind, why should they stop?”
For example, Citizens refused to pay for covered damages to James and Victoria Sidlauskas of Brooksville, Fla. for a repair to their roof, even though Citizens’ own adjuster admitted the roof was wind damaged during a legal deposition, Crosby says. The Sidlauskas have been engaged in a lawsuit with Citizens since February of last year and have been living with a 4-foot hole above their bathtub since filing their initial claim.
In the case of 78-year-old Judith Hutchinson, her roof and fence suffered damage from a storm in December of last year. After submitting a claim for the damage her 35-year-old home sustained, Citizens agreed to only pay for damages to her fence — roughly $2,905. Hutchinson disputed this settlement and submitted a proof of loss for $67,073, which Citizens still refuses to pay.
According to Crosby, one of the reasons this behavior is able to continue is because Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a private company heavily supported by the state, is statutorily immune from first-party bad faith claims, meaning they can continue to statutorily breach their own contracts without penalty. They are the only insurance company in Florida with this exemption.
Typically, when an insurance company breaks the law in the adjustment process, they must pay the insurer three times the damages for not adjusting legally.
Citizens never has to pay these damages.
Furthermore, in July of this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a property insurance package that allows Citizens to charge their customers 15 percent more for policies to help make up the money lost in litigation.
“We want this to be affordable for homeowners. We don’t want it to be something that is just kind of a pot for litigation,” DeSantis stated during a meeting of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors. “And that really (is) what was happening in Florida. I mean a huge, huge proportion of the money was going to litigation expenses.”
With Henderson and thousands of other claimants taking legal action every year against Citizens for not holding up their end of the deal, Florida’s response is to allow Citizens to increase their rates to make up for money lost in litigation, passing the buck of their own wrongdoing on to their customers.
Anyone who believes Citizens has treated their insurance claim in a similar manner is encouraged to contact Bay Area Public Adjuster by calling 727-579-0000 or visiting www.BayAreaPA.com.
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