Insurance company suing its customers, Hurricane Ian victims

Published: Updated:

Here’s a different twist to the traditional homeowner’s insurance issue: One company is suing its policyholders over Hurricane Ian claims.

The company is People’s Trust Insurance Company, and it claims customers violated their policies by repairing their Ian-damaged homes without using the insurer’s contractor.

Mary Stewart and her family have been forced to live in their Ian-damaged Port Charlotte home.

“Our ceilings are coming down in almost every room of the house,” Stewart pointed out.

And now, her insurer, People’s Trust has sued her. Every day she sifts through the lawsuit that has nearly 200 pages of exhibits.

“It’s just more than what people should have to put up with when they’re paying insurance to stop from having to do this stuff,” she added. “I don’t know how else to put it, but it’s just really stressful.”

A year later, my porch is still gone. That was my sanctuary.

Mary Stewart

She found the company difficult to deal with from the moment she filed her insurance claim. And, she claimed the company’s own field adjuster who documented her home’s damage listed a lot of things wrong.

“I would call up I said, ‘hey, you’ve got some errors here.’ I’m a pretty honest person. And then no one talked to me. So there was really nothing I could do but sit and play the wait game,” said Stewart.

After about three and a half months she couldn’t take it anymore. She pulled up all the flooring ruined by water and hired someone else to install tile.

“A year later, my porch is still gone. That was my sanctuary,” she explained. “I don’t have my sanctuary anymore.”

Stewart doesn’t know how People’s Trust learned she started making repairs on her home. She was served with the lawsuit 9 days before Hurricane Ian’s one year mark.

“They came to my front door, and they gave the paperwork to my 17-year-old grandson,” she lamented.

Chester Punicki from Punta Gorda can relate.

“This is our largest investment in our lives…is your home usually. And I’m supposed to just let it turn into a pile of junk?! Because they’re dragging their feet?!” he asked.

Ian destroyed his pool cage, ruined his roof and knocked doors off of their sliders.

“They agreed with everything. The only thing that we didn’t agree on is how much it’s worth,” recalled Punicki. “I’m saying it was worth somewhere between $160 and $175,000 that they made an offer of $60-something, $66, or something like that. So I said ‘no thanks. I don’t, I don’t want that.’ They made us a second offer of $90,000. And I turned that down too, because it’s not enough.”

In February, he started working on his house. People’s Trust sued him in July even though one of the company’s desk adjusters sent him an email saying he did not have to use the company’s preferred contractor to fix his home if he takes the settlement offer.

“Even after that after they sued us, they came up with a third settlement of $75,000,” said Punicki. “So they went from 66 to 91, down to 75. Thinking that ‘well, we sued them. They are afraid of that. they’ll just accept it.'”

But he hasn’t. And, Punicki and Stewart are not the only homeowners People’s Trust has taken to court. The company’s Chief Operating Officer told WINK News Consumer Investigator Andryanna Sheppard that they have sued about 100 policyholders.

Sheppard pointed out that People’s has filed more than 50 lawsuits post-Ian in Charlotte County alone. It boils down to the preferred contractor endorsement and right to repair clauses in customers’ contracts.

Preferred Contractor endorsement

The state’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Tasha Carter explained, “Essentially means that your insurance company may have the legal right to repair your property damage. And so instead of paying you as the policyholder, a claim settlement for you to then make the repairs to your property, the insurance company will hire contractors to repair your property.”

Carter said homeowners typically get a premium discount if these provisions are in their policies.

“And if you ask somebody if they would take a $67 discount in lieu of getting their house fixed timely, nobody would in their right mind would take that. Nobody. I wouldn’t,” Stewart explained.

Now Punicki and Stewart are in for lengthy court battles. They want every homeowner to take a look at their policy–so they don’t end up in the same situation.

“We buy insurance to protect us from the financial injuries of having damage to our home. These people are not doing that,” added Stewart. “I don’t understand why they’re even allowed to carry insurance in the state of Florida if they’re not going to make sure your home gets fixed.”

Both Punicki and Stewart told Sheppard they aren’t going down without a fight. Their lawsuits are still pending. Stewart’s attorney believes the state needs to look into People’s Trust.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer defends their actions. You can read the company’s full statement HERE.

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