May 7--Key West attorney Robert Cintron has settled five federal lawsuits filed against different flood insurance companies - one recent settlement allowing Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez to begin moving back into his home after more than two years of living in a temporary trailer.
Hurricane Wilma in 2005 left many Keys homes in shambles or in desperate need of repair, including the six clients represented by Cintron. Those clients say they haven't gotten adequate insurance compensation.
Lopez said his insurance providers, after assessing his home, bickered over which natural force caused damage - wind or flood - and who was held liable. As a result, he and his wife spent the past two years in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Two companies at odds in his case were Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which covers wind damage, and Fidelity National Property and Casualty Insurance Co., which covers flooding.
Both have provided money for the restoration. Citizens offered $4,000 after a $5,000 deductible and Fidelity's estimate on repairs it would cover was about $45,000.
But Lopez said it would take more than $200,000 to fully repair his home.
That's when he sued.
Cintron explored the possibility of trying to get a class-action lawsuit against FEMA and flood insurance providers Sunshine State, Fidelity and USAA, but said he couldn't garner enough plaintiffs to proceed on class-action status.
One lawsuit he filed against Sunshine State still pending, Cintron said.
Those insurance companies must adhere to policies set by the National Flood Insurance Program, a component of FEMA created by Congress in 1968. Premiums paid to insurance carriers end up in FEMA's bank accounts, he explained, adding that adjusters decide the claim.
FEMA caps its allowable flood claim at $250,000, which can be less than damages experienced by some Keys residents, FEMA spokesman Butch Kinerney said.
"I'm almost convinced that it's not as much the insurance company as it is the federal government regulations," Cintron said.
"The flood insurance is just a cloak for FEMA," Lopez said.
While the settlement "wasn't really what we needed or had hoped for, at this point it's been two and a half years and we need something to move forward," Lopez said.
Due to FEMA deadlines for trailer move-out, Lopez and his wife Pam had to purchase the FEMA trailer for $600. After their home is fully repaired, he said they plan to donate it to a church and move back their Amelia Street house.
Lopez said he filed his lawsuit after trying to resolve the situation without litigation.
"Once we got into the lawsuit mode, it didn't take long at all to resolve it under federal court guidelines," Cintron said. "I still think the industry continues to be somewhat overwhelmed by flood claims. I don't think there was any evil motive on behalf of the insurance company."