A tale of two homes: Hurricane Ian victims trying to rebuild

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

Two different homes.

Two different insurance companies.

But JJ Wheeler and Linda Johnson have almost identical stories. Both of them feel their insurance companies aren’t shelling out the appropriate amount of money to get their homes back to normal after Hurricane Ian. It’s the same reality many Southwest Floridians share.

JJ Wheeler gave WINK News’ Consumer Reporter, Andryanna Sheppard, a tour of his Cape Coral home in January. He said the roof leaked in his one-year-old’s bedroom and water was trapped between the drywall and the insulation. Water seeped in for months.

“There was significant mold all along the baseboards and down [on the carpet] where the water was collecting,” Wheeler said. 

Other parts of Wheeler’s home were blocked off because mold levels weren’t safe. The family rented an Airbnb until it was safe to return.

“It’s just a nightmare,” Wheeler added.

Wheeler filed a claim with Tower Hill Insurance about a week after Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida. Shortly after, an adjuster came and looked at the damage. Wheeler said the report came back missing damaged rooms but included a check for about $23,000.

“I thought it was an error,” Wheeler said in shock. “Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. I just thought there’s no way that that man that came out here while we were still picking the pieces up of everything, and walked around our house and saw everything, thought that that amount would get our house back to what it was the day before that storm.”

So the Wheelers hired a lawyer who sent out a contractor. The contractor’s damage estimate came in at about $80,000. Once they alerted Tower Hill, the company sent out another adjuster. Wheeler says the company then offered an additional $15,000.

“When you sign your contract and you agree to pay them every month or six months or yearly through your escrow, you’re under the assumption that you’re paying them money so that if you need them in a situation like this, they’re going to be there for you. And they’re absolutely not,” Wheeler said. “And it’s like they’re facing no consequences for it.”

But after all the back and forth, both sides agreed to a settlement. Wheeler told WINK News he is happy with the settlement.

WINK News has reached out to Tower Hill Insurance for comment but has not gotten a response.

Over the bridge, Linda Johnson has a similar story dealing with American Integrity Insurance. She said she had to put her life on hold.

Linda Johnson’s home was also damaged. (CREDIT: WINK News)

“I dropped my classes last semester because I had to immediately find storage for all my supplies. I had to clean out my condo of everything and I didn’t have time to go to school,” Johnson said in frustration.

One look at Johnson’s South Fort Myers condo and you know she can’t live there. It’s gutted. Yet, adjuster after adjuster, call after call, email after email, including some sent to higher management in the company, Johnson was dissatisfied with the amount American Integrity offered.

“I’ve sent them estimates for everything,” Johnson added. “I’ve sent them the roof estimate, the AC estimate, the rebuild, the mold mitigation, which total almost $80,000. I’m still just working with that $6,000 that they initially sent me”

So WINK News’ Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard called, emailed and messaged American Integrity on Facebook. The insurance company’s Vice President of Marketing got back to her by email in one business day.

“Thank you for reaching out to us regarding Ms. Johnson’s claim. We recognize and apologize for communication delays that occurred with this claim due to the transition of adjusters, as well as the ability to set up engineers and contractors to assess damage after an event of this magnitude. It’s important to note that nowhere in her claim file is there any mention of an adjuster discussing flood damage in regard to this home.

“Our initial claim payment was based on the estimate of our field adjuster. Once we received the engineer report, as well as her content list, roofing estimate and other documentation, we were able to develop her supplemental payment. This payment should encompass all damages.

“We are in the process of notifying our customer about the supplemental payment and that we are finalizing her settlement. Thank you.”

Johnson said, “I sent them an Excel spreadsheet with all my personal property damages months ago.”

American Integrity sent Johnson more money, but still not enough money to cover the damage.

So WINK News’ Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard reached out to the insurance company again. She did not hear back, but Johnson said she did.

Johnson said the company is sending the tens of thousands of dollars her policy allows, much more than the initial $6,000.

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