As a new hurricane season begins, thousands still have open insurance claims from Ian

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida in September 2022. More than a year and a half later, as we enter another hurricane season, April numbers from the state show nearly 32,000 claims remain open.

The Smith family knows that all too well. WINK News Consumer Investigator Andryanna Sheppard talked with the family of six who live in their Port Charlotte driveway as they battle Citizens Insurance.

Sheppard’s interview with Brittney Smith was the longest Smith had been in her house since Hurricane Ian. One look inside, and you can see why. There are no walls, no doors, just bleak reminders of what the rooms used to be.


“Every day when I come in here, it makes me sad that it’s not our home,” said an emotional Smith. “It has taken everything from us.”

Smith blames her insurer, Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort.

“We can’t give up. This is our home. This is our family. All of our money is tied up in our home. We are not backing down. They should not be able to put families through what my family has been through the past year and a half,” added Smith.


She first hired a public adjuster to help with the claim but said Citizens ignored them. That’s when she got attorney Vanessa Ross on her team. Ross used to represent Citizens Insurance. Now, she helps homeowners get their lives and homes back.

“I just tell them to keep the faith to know that we’re working through the process,” explained the attorney.

Ross told me contractors estimated it would take about $260,000 to fix Smith’s house. Flood insurance paid its portion, but Ross claimed Citizens has lowballed and delayed the lawsuit.

At this point, we’ve been out of our
house longer than we actually lived in it. Brittney Smith

“We’re still dealing with the additional living expenses, the price of the camper that was never reimbursed, the other expenses that were incurred because she couldn’t live in her house,” added Ross.

“Why are you making this longer for my family to have to go through?” Smith questioned. “It’s causing more stress on my family.”


But even if the Smiths get all the money they need to repair their home–can they?

“I’m so worried about the 50% rule. It’s like I already put out money for the roof. If all the permanent work goes over that certain limit, we can’t rebuild. Then what do we do,” she wondered.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency‘s 50% rule prohibits repairs and improvements on damaged homes exceeding 50% of their market value unless the entire residential structure is brought up to code to meet the most current floodplain management regulations.

Sheppard contacted Citizens Insurance. A spokesperson said they could not comment because of ongoing litigation related to the claim.

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