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Anniversary of Hurricane Wilma a reminder of the lessons learned in South Florida

This week marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma, the last major storm to strike South Florida.

Newspapers as far away as California marked the anniversary, as the Sacramento Bee reported the storm’s $10.3 billion in claims have resulted in insurers leaving the state even as Citizen’s Property Insurance — the underfunded state-backed insurer of last resort — has been forced to step into the gap.
Make no mistake about it: Despite the fact that most of these companies have collected on double-digit premium increases in each of the past five years, claims for the next major storm in South Florida will be best handled by an experienced Miami insurance dispute attorney. Citizens will quickly become insolvent and the private insurers will run for the hills, which likely means delaying and denying claims and generally making it as difficult on homeowners as possible in an effort to avoid paying claims.

Some are claiming a bill vetoed by Gov. Crist earlier this year would have helped return the system to solvency. We don’t buy it. The bill would have limited the amount of time for filing claims to three years, from the five years currently permitted by law. The insurance industry is bound to try again this year. It passed lawmakers once. Enough lobbying dollars and campaign contributions will likely see it pass again, thereby eroding just a little bit more of the rights of homeowners.

The bill would also move to regulate discounts homeowners are permitted to get for hurricane resistant construction. The insurance industry is crying foul over this measure, saying homeowners are taking advantage by having inspectors claim phantom improvements. As we reported on our Florida Insurance Lawyer Blog, this entire issue was prompted by the fact that many insurers were not providing basic hurricane deductions available by default on most newly constructed homes. Instead, insurance companies were treating homes as if they were built in the 1950s and 1960s unless a homeowner understood the process well enough to hire an inspector, retrieve a form from the agent, and proactively seek the deductions.

Wilma plowed into Marco Island shortly before dawn on Oct. 25. Flooding in Collier County was the first report of major damage. Heavy damage in Clewiston and the Lake Okeechobee region left thousands without power. By shortly after lunch, the storm was back out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Palm Beach.

Tornadoes touched down as far away as Melbourne.

As South Florida heads deep into the final weeks of hurricane season, it is worth noting that this storm hit the peninsula during the last week of October. As we have reported previously, Florida is not clear of the hurricane threat yet, even as winter tourist season begins. Historically, half of the state’s hurricanes have struck South Florida in October and November.

Hurricane season officially ends Oct. 30.
If you are facing a dispute over an insurance claim in Florida, contact Alvarez & Barbara, LLP toll free at 866-518-2913 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

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