TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis says two state investigations have been launched following reports that insurance companies have been slashing Hurricane Ian payouts, leaving homeowners to foot the repair bill.
The allegations were first made more than three months ago in Tallahassee, during a Florida House committee meeting.
In December, lawmakers convened a special session on property insurance. They wanted to pass massive reforms requested by insurance companies.
Some said it was a bad idea, including three insurance adjusters, who tried and failed, to stop the law from being passed.
Hurricane Ian crashed into Florida’s west coast in late September last year. The Category 4 hurricane packed 150 mile per hour winds, heavy rains and storm surge.
More than two months after the hurricane, storm clouds gathered over lawmakers sitting on the House Commerce Committee.
On Dec. 13, 2022, the day before the Florida legislature’s special session wrapped up, the committee convened to review a property insurance reform bill. Committee chairman, State Rep. Bob Rommel, presided as various speakers stepped up to the podium.
More than two hours later, it was Ben Mandell’s turn.
Mandell identified himself as a licensed, independent adjuster who works on behalf of insurance companies, that he alleges have become too emboldened by recent legislative changes.
Mandell told lawmakers his claims were not getting paid after Hurricane Ian; then came, something unexpected.
“The insurance companies were directing the file reviewers to change my estimates to repair the roofs, rather than to replace a totaled roof. However, the insurance company was leaving my name on the estimates in a fraudulent effort to make it appear that I had written this bogus estimate, which defrauded the policyholders out of their proper claim payments,” Mandell said.
He talked more about the matter, describing it as a scheme. Chairman Rommel interrupted him about two minutes later with an “excuse me.” But Mandell did not stop speaking.
“If you or your friend or your relative has an insurance claim that has not been properly paid,” said Mandell.
Then his mic was cut off.
“Alright, so first of all, since you’re a licensed public adjuster and you just told us some licensed insurance … have committed fraud. If you can come to my office with that information later. I’ll make sure the Attorney General and OIR takes care of that. My office is on the third floor, you can see me after the committee,” Rep. Rommel said before warning others not to “hijack the mic.”
After Mandell, two other adjusters made a similar claim.
“They’ve got to stop changing our estimates and leaving our names on them and you know, they’re just taking stuff out for no reason,” said Mark Vinson, a Florida Licensed Insurance Adjuster.
“They’ve manipulated these documents without my approval,” said Jordan Lee.
Rep. Rommel urged all the adjusters to speak with him after the proceeding.
“I’m going to have to cut you off again. But to continue, you’re a licensed adjuster.. I’m on the third flood and I’d love to see that information,” he said.
The question now is what happened in the hours and days that followed.
DeSantis has since announced the launch of two state investigations.
“So the reports of people getting short changed or getting unlawfully dropped because someone was looking to make more money, the insurance regulation office is investigating that, the chief financial officer is investigating that,” said Gov. DeSantis during a news conference in Ft. Myers. “They need to be held accountable and I know that they’re going to be aggressively doing it.”
No charges have been brought against any person or company, and no wrongdoing has been proven.
At this point, these are just allegations that have been made to lawmakers.
Furthermore, we cannot confirm that the state is investigating any specific insurance company or insurance vendor.
If you would like to discuss your Hurricane Ian claim, please send an email to Mahsa at MSaeidi@WFLA.com