TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — We’re learning new details about the state investigation following reports that insurance companies have been slashing Hurricane Ian payouts.
Last year, three insurance adjusters told lawmakers their estimates were manipulated to reduce policyholder payouts. These serious allegations were first made to lawmakers in December.
It happened in a public proceeding, broadcast on the Florida Channel and online.
8 On Your Side Investigator Mahsa Saeidi discovered that for weeks, the state did not launch an investigation.
On Dec. 13, before the Florida House Commerce Committee, three independent insurance adjusters testified their estimates had been manipulated to reduce payouts to storm victims.
“They’ve got to stop changing our estimates,” said Mark Vinson, a licensed insurance adjuster.
Insurance adjuster Jordan Lee agreed.
“They’ve manipulated these documents,” he said.
“The scheme was repeated over and over again,” said adjuster Ben Mandell.
Commerce Committee Chairman State Rep. Bob Rommel the told the adjusters if in fact, insurance companies were doctoring estimates, he wanted to see the information as soon as possible.
“If you show that they’re doctoring your estimates, please bring that information to me,” said Rep. Rommel.
“Bring it to me today,” he added. “I’ll make sure the Attorney General and OIR takes care of that.”
Fast forward three months, and on March 17, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced two state investigations into the matter during a question and answer portion of a news conference in Fort Myers.
“The insurance regulation office is investigating that, the chief financial officer is investigating that,” said DeSantis.
So what happened in the days between December and March?
We wanted a timeline of the state’s response. Investigator Mahsa Saeidi sat down with Mark Vinson and Ben Mandell, two of the adjusters who testified before Rep. Rommel on Dec. 13.
“You emailed the one case?” Saeidi asked.
“Yea, the one case. And basically it was like, thanks for meeting with us,” said Mandell.
Rep. Rommel’s office confirmed they received an email about one case.
“Thank you for meeting with us yesterday,” Mandell wrote in the message. “I promised to provide you the evidence you requested and I wanted to send over a file.”
That email was sent on Dec. 14. 8 On Your Side has learned, this email was not forwarded to investigators for more than two months.
Why? An aide for Rep. Rommel said “during the weeks of Committees we get hundreds of emails. I was not aware of this email until Feb. 20.”
Last week, the Florida Department of Financial Services stated they’ve “opened an investigation into fraud allegations based on a tip provided by Rep. Bob Rommel’s Office.”
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation oversees insurance companies. OIR Communications Director Samantha Bequer says they’re looking into how claims were handled after Hurricane Ian.
Ms. Bequer noted that the agency may take administrative action and impose penalties to protect Floridians.
We asked if they’ve actually done that and if so, how many times, and against which companies. We’re waiting to hear back from OIR.
State investigators have not filed a complaint against any person or insurance company.
At this point, these are just allegations that have launched two investigations.
A representative for Attorney General Ashley Moody said the AG is not investigating the matter. In general, the AG doesn’t have jurisdiction over these matters, we’re told.