By RANDY DIAMOND
TAMPA – Three Tampa-based homeowner insurance companies that form Poe Financial Group have received almost 1,700 complaints from consumers who suffered damage from 2005 hurricanes, the highest number of complaints in Florida, state officials say.
What remains unclear is how many of the cases – mostly centering on complaints about unsatisfactory compensation offers or having never seen an adjuster – have been resolved during the past few months.
Poe Senior Vice President Dave Gough said many of the claims had been resolved but that the company has yet to catch up with paperwork showing that.
One out of four of the Poe Financial Group’s 320,000 policyholders filed a claim related to hurricanes Wilma or Katrina, initially overwhelming the company’s resources, Gough said. The company insures heavily in South Florida, where Wilma hit.
Officials with the Florida Department of Financial Services acknowledged Friday that because of processing errors in the department, they don’t know whether 1,459 of the almost 1,700 complaints were resolved.
The department asked Poe on Friday to report back within 10 days on each open complaint, showing it had been resolved or stating when it would be.
Poe Financial Group, which was founded and is owned by former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, runs Atlantic Preferred, Florida Preferred and Southern Family insurance companies.
The large number of open complaints was discovered Friday after The Tampa Tribune inquired about their status, said Marta Arrington, director of consumer services for the state Department of Financial Services.
“We’re not happy with Poe’s resolution rate,” Arrington said.
Gough said that despite the number of claims, the insurance group remains financially healthy.
Rating Service Was Concerned
In early 2005, a major insurance rating service, A.M. Best, downgraded Atlantic Preferred and Southern Family to a C rating. Rating services officials said at the time they were concerned that the companies could be financially vulnerable if another hurricane struck.
A.M. Best no longer rates the companies, at Poe’s request. Florida Preferred was never rated by A.M. Best.
James Wurdeman, Poe’s president and chief executive officer, did not respond to repeated phone calls Thursday and Friday asking for details about the company’s financial capital.
State insurance regulators have said the finances of several homeowner insurance companies are being closely monitored because of storm claims. They won’t specify which ones.
Arrington said she takes full responsibility for the complaints against Poe still being open. She said the consumer complaints were forwarded to Poe and that the companies responded, but her staff never examined the answers in detail. Arrington said examination of those complaints began only this week.
Arrington said she was shocked to find that in 1,459 of Poe responses, the company did not detail that the complaint had been settled. Answers were vague, stating, for example, that an adjuster would be arriving within 30 days. She said Poe needed to state whether the complaint had been resolved or when it would be.
Protest Pays Off
One homeowner had his complaint against Poe resolved Friday. Frank Gardonyi, of Coral Springs, had been disputing Poe’s $5,802 settlement for damage to his house during Wilma. He said contractors estimated it would cost $20,000 to fix his pool area and roof. He said Poe officials refused to take his phone calls for two months.
On Friday, Gardonyi picketed outside Poe’s headquarters on Harbour Island in Tampa. A half-hour later, the company invited him in to talk.
Gough said Poe cut a check to Gardonyi for $10,000 on the spot and is reviewing the rest of his estimates.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Gough said.
Remember … the bigger the claim the more you need the advocacy of a licensed Public Adjuster.