The Guessing Game: Who decides what stays and what goes in your Hurricane Ian-damaged home?

Author: Céline McArthur
Published: Updated:

To gut or not to gut? It’s a question many of you struggled with after Hurricane Ian. As we’ve seen in many homes, water can do a lot of damage.

You may have gone in and pulled out what was wet, dirty, and damaged, and now you’re wondering why your insurance company is battling you over the bill.

WINK Investigates Reporter Céline McArthur digs into one Port Charlotte family’s claim to get answers.

If you have insurance, you have a contract. A contractual obligation to do what’s necessary to protect your home from additional damage after a storm hits. But what exactly does that mean, and who makes that call? It depends on who you ask, which is a problem.

Paul Pernak is a Naples firefighter, working when Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida.

“I’m here waiting for people who need my help,” says Paul.

Waiting for people who need his help while worrying about his own family 85 miles away at their home in Port Charlotte. “I got a text from my wife, saying that the drywall from the second floor had fell on her by the front door,” said Paul. “And that was enough for me.”

Despite Ian’s near category-five winds and record storm surge, Paul managed to drive home.

“The only thing I can think of is I just got to get home to my family. Make sure they’re okay. And that was my only drive,” said Paul. “When I walked in the front door, I just saw their look on her face and they just she just obviously fell apart. Everybody’s wet.”

And their home looked like:

“It was like Jumanji in the house,” said his wife, Felicia Pernak. “The water was coming from everywhere. Ceilings were coming down everything.”

Three months later, Paul and Felicia got a six-figure check from their carrier. Edison Insurance Company, which is a subsidiary of Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, paid them $188,000 for damages to the house, and then another $55,000 for contents.

It’s a big chunk of change, however, the family says the amount of the check—versus the cost of the fix—left them about $200,000 short.

“You just don’t think about all the things that have to be replaced until you replace them and what it takes to do it,” said Paul.

They say their public adjuster has not been able to negotiate with Edison. I reached out to the company—no response.

So, I called their outside public relations firm, Boardroom PR.

Their executive asked not to be identified by name, but claimed the Pernaks are—quote—”nuts.” He says the Pernaks fired a mitigation company working in the house. Paul did. He says Joe Taylor Restoration was referred to them by Edison and failed to get the job done. “I told him that they had to go, because I felt like they were just wasting time and they were wasting money is what they were doing,” said Paul.

Paul says the company wouldn’t remove damaged dry wall and set up fans to try to dry out a home full of wet furniture and belongings.

“The rugs, the bedding, the dressers, everything was sopping wet,” said Paul. “So nothing was happening. When I asked the manager what’s going on, are they going to come back and clean the rest of it up, it was, you know, we are an emergency service, you know, we’re not going to tear drywall out.”

Joe Taylor Restoration tells me their lawyer advised them not to answer my questions since this is an open case. Once that company left the Pernak’s home, the couple hired a licensed contractor to tear out the rest of the damage.

The PR executive claims the homeowners cleared out too much but will not offer me any specifics about what should have stayed intact and why.

“I’m just trying to live and get this situated with no direction. No direction from the insurance company. There was no direction from anybody. There’s not an outline or guide how to handle this situation. You have to figure it all out on your own because no one is willing to tell you how to do it,” said Paul.

I asked attorney David Sholl, who doesn’t represent the family, to look at the policy and the damage and weigh in.

“I don’t want to throw the PR guy under the bus. But it’s, you know, it’s easier to speak in clichés than it is to dive into the facts, right. And it’s easy (for the insurance company) to say, Well, you shouldn’t have done that much work,” said Sholl.

The policy requires the Pernaks to protect the covered property from further damage by making “reasonable and necessary repairs.”

Sholl says that directive is too vague. “The insurance company is putting him between a rock and a hard place. They’re saying mitigate your damages. But don’t mitigate them any more than we think you’re allowed to. And we’re not going to tell you what to do. You know, that’s not how this is supposed to work. It’s not meant to be a guessing game,” said Sholl.

Or a six-month waiting game, with the family living in the backyard. “We have a camper and we have a tent, three bedroom tent for the kids so that they can each have their own space,” said Felicia.

They say Edison hasn’t paid any of their additional living expenses, not a penny, which are covered in their policy. They can’t afford to rent another house, so they have to make this work, even though it’s a daily struggle.

“Everything’s changed in our life, you know, how we live and how we do things,” said Paul. “I’m trying to make it as nice as I can, but you know, we live in Florida. We’re not supposed to live outside. So, it just it just gets rough.”

Boardroom PR says Edison stands by its adjustment of the Pernak’s damages yet is “reaching out to them to seek resolution in this matter.”

I’ll follow their progress until they’re back in their home.

In a March press conference, Governor DeSantis said he’s willing to work on the insurance crisis.

“I think anyone should be held accountable who is not meeting their obligations they owe to their folks,” said DeSantis. “I am open to do whatever we need to do to continue to work on the problem.”

I reached out to the Governor’s office to find out exactly how he’s willing to address your issues with your insurance companies and when because many of you, like the Pernaks, are struggling now. I’ll let you know what I find out.

You can reach Celine via email:

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