Homeowner sues insurer known for suing its own policyholders

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

Almost a year and a half after Hurricane Ian and insurance lawsuits are still making their way through the courts. One insurance company stands out for suing its own customers but one of its policyholders turned the tables.

Hurricane Ian shredded any happiness Jan Ford had in her new Port Charlotte home. Literally.

“This was my happy place. It’s not anymore,” said Ford, staring at what’s left of her lanai.

Ford's home after Hurricane Ian, waiting for insurer to fix home
Ford’s home after Hurricane Ian

Just six months after closing, the storm tore it from the back of her house, causing much of her roof to go with it.

“Where the particle board is now, there was nothing there,” Ford pointed at her kitchen ceiling. “It was open sky for months.”

Ford's kitchen ceiling after Hurricane Ian, waiting for insurer to fix home
Ford’s kitchen ceiling after Hurricane Ian

The rest of the house doesn’t look much better. There are holes scattered across her ceiling with insulation in plain sight. She said she keeps 15 catch basins under them.

“I was going, ‘Oh God, please don’t let it rain.’ Because I would have to be here because I’m bailing water out of the catch basins just as fast as I can,” Ford recalled.

Ford filed her insurance claim with her insurer, People’s Trust, shortly after Hurricane Ian. That’s the same company WINK News Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard discovered suing its own policyholders after the storm. People’s Trust claims those homeowners broke the ‘right to repair’ section of their policies for doing work on their own homes when they’re supposed to let People’s Trust send its owner contractor, Rapid Response Team. To date, the company has taken more than 60 people to court in Charlotte County alone. Sheppard spoke to the insurer’s Chief Operating Officer about this in November 2023.

“We have the right to repair,” COO Tom Gallagher said. “We don’t write checks; we repair homes. And so that’s what the policy says and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Sheppard asked, “so are homeowners supposed to wait a year after Ian hit in order for their homes to be fixed?”

“We would hope not,” Gallagher replied. “And we’d rather not.”

Ford's kitchen after Hurricane Ian, waiting for insurer to fix home
Ford’s kitchen after Hurricane Ian

But this time, People’s Trust didn’t sue Ford. Ford sued them because they took more than a year to fix her home or send money so she she could hire her own crews for repairs. Ford’s public adjuster, Mark Petschulat of All Claims USA, said the insurer first invoked its right to repair and then backed off.

“Then they told my office that her house is older than 1980 so it wouldn’t be,” Petschulat added.

An exhibit in Ford’s complaint from December 2022 shows one of People’s Trust’s claims adjusters saying “Ms. Ford can indeed choose her own contractor for her repairs,” and “if you agree with the estimate, we can get payment issued.” The estimate was for about $89,000 which was about $30,000 less than what Petschulat said was needed.

“Then they went back to the right to repair, thus never making a payment at all,” Petschulat continued. “No help from People’s Trust.”

Nothing for months. So Ford lawyered up with Edward Jimenez.

“All of us in Florida, us as citizens, policyholders, we have certain rights,” Jimenez said.

Ford's bathroom ceiling after Hurricane Ian, waiting for insurer to fix home
Ford’s bathroom ceiling, CREDIT: WINK News

The Florida Legislature met for a Special Session to address property insurance in December 2022. Senate Bill 2A shortened the amount of time insurance companies must

  • review and acknowledge a claim from 14 to 7 days.
  • begin a claim investigation from 14 to 7 days.
  • conduct a physical inspection from 45 to 30 days.
  • send the field adjuster’s report within 7 days after it was created.
  • pay or deny a claim from 90 to 60 days.
  • pay undisputed amounts of benefits from 90 to 60 days.

Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law the same month. The provisions went into effect March 2023.

Jimenez sent two demand letters, one in March 2023 and the other in May 2023, telling People’s Trust they either needed to put a check in the mail or send Rapid Response Team to Ford’s house.

“They didn’t want to do either of those things,” Jimenez said. “They wanted to keep prolonging the process. My belief, in my opinion, it was in an effort to reduce their exposure. They were dangling this threat of using their own contractor on the one hand, to try to reduce her settlement on the other hand. That’s bad faith.”

The lawsuit was filed in June 2023 and resolved in January 2024. Although People’s Trust didn’t take Ford to court, it rubs Jimenez the wrong way that the company sued dozens of its own policyholders.

“There’s something wrong there,” Jimenez added. “Something has to be done about it. Honestly, this has gone too far.”

Back in November 2023, Florida’s Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky told Sheppard his office was looking into People’s Trust.

“Whether or not the service is being performed is up to the standards that one would expect to receive from their insurer,” Yaworsky said.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is still looking into this issue.

Ford speaking with WINK News Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard about insurer
Ford speaking with WINK News Consumer Reporter Andryanna Sheppard, CREDIT: WINK News

Either way, Ford is ready to part ways with People’s Trust but she can’t get covered with a different insurer until the holes around her home are patched up. She’s working on getting estimates now.

“You try to do the right thing to protect your investment and you get screwed over,” Ford chuckled

Sheppard asked People’s Trust when the company decides to invoke its right to repair versus send out a check. They wouldn’t answer that question or grant her another interview. Instead, the Chief Marketing Officer sent the below statement:

“We can’t comment on individual claims, but as was said, we reserve the right to repair, and our decisions are made based on individual circumstances. The example the COO gave you was only one example of when we might allow the homeowner to make the repair with their contractor. Many factors weigh into that decision, but all decisions are made in the best interest of our policyholders.”

If you have something you’d like WINK Investigations to look into, email investigations@winknews.com

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