Examination Under Oath: Payback to property insurance policyholders who won’t back down?

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“We’re the ones who’ve been hurt. Our house has been damaged and I feel like now we’re being treated like criminals, that you’re trying to prove that maybe we have committed fraud!?!” Elaine Damiano, Cape Coral homeowner

A Cape Coral couple is outraged at what they say is their insurance company’s latest strategy to try and kill their claim. Jacksonville-based Cypress Property & Casualty Insurance Company hired lawyers to question them under oath.

We first told you about Elaine and Michael Damiano in March. They couldn’t get Cypress to take a call or answer an email for months, even though they had a public adjuster. We tracked down Cypress Executive Vice President Jeff Vanderpool, who admitted the couple’s claim “fell off their radar.”

A week later, the couple got a check for $115k. A promising start, but half of what they say they need and what their policy covers to restore their home. We dig into this latest development.

10 months later

78-year-old Michael Damiano and his 76-year-old wife Elaine say the aftermath of Hurricane Ian is worse than the storm itself.

“It’s taking a toll physically, mentally, spiritually, in many ways,” Damiano said.

Their Cape Coral home is still under construction, but they want move back in, so they’re setting up a makeshift bedroom, which reminds them of how they rode out Hurricane Ian on the floor of the local high school with their two golden retrievers.

September 28, 2022: Lexi and Emmi waiting out Hurricane Ian with Elaine and Michael at the local high school

“We put the blankets on the floor of the school and slept on a hard cold floor with hundreds and hundreds of other people,” said Michael.

When they returned home, they face a cold hard truth: the house was badly damaged and many of their possessions were destroyed.

“After so many years of putting things into it, you know, memories, we lost pictures and mementos, things you can’t replace, as well,” said Michael. “And we’re still working on replacing things that we can.”

But that hasn’t been easy. they say Cypress has not given them any more money to replace and rebuild.

Elaine Damiano, Cape Coral homeowner

“Having to liquidate at this age is frightening,” said Elaine. “If I was younger, I worked two jobs. I’d handle it. Michael would work two jobs, he’d handle it.”

Examination under oath?

Now they have to handle a Cypress demand they didn’t know was a thing! It’s called an Examination Under Oath, or EUO. Cypress hired lawyers to question Elaine and Michael—separately and under oath—about their claim.

“I feel it’s intimidation, quite honestly,” said Michael. “I’m intimidated, that you’re going to ask me questions about my home, what I did, how I’m living, and not for the effort of paying me, for the effort of not paying me, if in fact, that’s what you’re doing. You’re representing the insurance company.”

In the letter, the company claims the EUO allows them to have all the information necessary to complete a proper evaluation and to determine their obligations under the policy. I reached out to Cypress to find out specifically what they’re looking for. No response. I asked the couple’s attorney David Sholl the same question.

“Truthfully Celine, I can’t fathom why they’re asking for the examination or oath on this claim, I can’t,” said Sholl. “The insurance companies don’t hire lawyers to try to pay your claim. They’re trying to figure out ways that they don’t have to pay it.”

Scotty Moland is the couple’s public adjuster.

CĂ©line: “Have they given you any indication of what they don’t know?”
Moland: “Realistically, there might be an invoice, there might be something that they don’t have, but it’s not enough to hold up the claim. It wouldn’t be substantial enough to slow down this process.”

Since Cypress admitted to me it dropped the ball in this case, Moland wonders why the insurance company is still holding out.

“I would rather they just tell me the truth, which is, we don’t want to pay this claim, because that would simplify the timeline that we work on,” said Moland. “If you just tell me, ‘you know, I don’t want to…’ BOOM, it’s going to an attorney. We can start that process right away. Instead, they drag us through the muck.”

“There’s a power imbalance to begin with. It’s you against a billion-dollar company, and when you have a claim on your home, or I have a claim on my home, we really don’t have a lot of power.” Rod Buvens, Independent Adjuster

Rod Buvens, Independent Adjuster

Rod Buvens is a licensed, independent adjuster with more than 30 years experience in the industry.

“I’ve worked for both policyholders and for carriers,” said Buvens. “I serve as an umpire in disputes where we have appraisers that can’t come to an agreement and they bring in what they call a neutral umpire.”

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is investigating potential insurance company fraud in Florida, based in part on Buvens’ sworn testimony that insurance companies manipulated damage estimates—written by independent adjusters—to deny or low ball-claims.

“There were letters sent out that said an independent adjuster went out to your home and they found these damages. Well, those weren’t the damages that we found at all. In fact, what we usually found was far more damages, but the insurance company had taken on a decision they made a decision that they just weren’t going to pay those claims,” said Buvens.

Buvens isn’t directly involved in the Damiano case, but I asked him to weigh in on the Examination Under Oath.

“There are other ways to get those facts that are much simpler, much less oppressive, much less intimidating on the policyholders who’ve already been traumatized.” Rod Buvens, Independent Adjuster

Like picking up the phone.

“I encourage open and transparent communication about these things,” said Buvens.

Buven fears the EUO is payback.

“I think it tends to take on an air of retribution, it tends to look like they’re punishing the homeowner, for talking to the media, or for going to the department. And, and I don’t think that’s right,” said Buvens.

Elaine and Michael are tired of fighting, but they’re not giving up or giving in.

Michael Damiano, Cape Coral homeowner

“We don’t lie, we want to tell the truth,” said Michael. “All we want is what is due us. I paid my bills, you should pay yours. Once they do that, we’ll be back in our house, get the money to go on living forward. And hopefully, that’s the end of that story. But as of this moment, the story continues.”

I will be there every step of the way, including their examination under oath.

You can catch up on our investigation here:

‘We dropped the ball’: Insurance CEO on Cape Coral family’s Ian claim

Homeowners get lowball insurance offers for Ian damage: Is the system failing them?

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