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Good Hands: The Illusion of Care During an Insurance Claim

Property damage is no stranger to the Gulf Coast. Most of our customers carry insurance in the event of devastation caused by fallen trees, raging winds, and water damage – particularly water damage. The misfortune is often complicated when the inevitable insurance claims process begins. Despite popular belief, insurance companies’ primary goal is not to be a “good neighbor.” In fact, we challenge this convention and briefly touch on the fool’s gold concept of being in “good hands.”

There is a reason why insurance companies have some of the tallest buildings in major metropolitan areas. The business of insurance is a game of charging their customers a long-term premium with the goal of paying little to nothing when disaster strikes.

Playing the game is daunting, and nobody knows how to win this game better than Apex Disaster Specialists.

Insurance is good. It is important, useful, and generally necessary to rebuild or repair what is lost. Many of our customers – and our family members – are insurance professionals. Apex Disaster Specialists has built an excellent working relationship with claims adjusters – the people who investigate insurance claims to ascertain the extent of liability.

Insurance companies argue they have the best interest of their policyholders. We have found this to be patently false for a variety of reasons. Ask your neighbors how smooth the claims process was after Hurricane Michael destroyed Panama City, Fla. in October 2018.

Apex Disaster Specialists informally surveyed customers from Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties to identify common experiences and results. We observed a theme: insurance companies delay, undervalue, and complicate the claims process.

Insurance companies seem to care more about profits over principles. They often form agreements with certain builders, roofers, and other general contractors to minimize their financial exposure. These business alliances are marketed to their customers under the misleading label of “preferred vendors.”

The term insinuates better…better for whom? Follow the money.

Although it is possible that preferred vendor relationships are best for all parties, it is difficult to ignore the appearance of impropriety.

The claims process typically begins when an insurance customer (insured) contacts their insurance company (insurer) to report a loss. This could stem from a catastrophic event (large community fire or named storm) or a more isolated incident (water heater leak). The insurer processes the claim using its internal field adjusters, customer service representatives, and desk adjusters. They also pay their preferred vendors – the contractors hired by the insurance company – to assist in determining the value of affected items and the cost to repair or replace.

There are many variables involved with determining this monetary figure. In a dispute, it would stand to reason that preferred vendors tend to agree more with their employer (insurer) while companies like Apex Disaster Specialists view unsafe or compromised living environments through the lens of the customer (insured).

It takes money to identify mold spores, determine air quality, and mitigate damages. If insurance companies and their network of preferred vendors do not fully address these topics, then how do customers know if they are in good hands?

Apex Disaster Specialists refuses to engage in preferred vendor contracts because we believe our fiduciary responsibility should always rest with our customers – not insurance companies.

There is no confusion, hidden agenda, or illusion regarding our loyalty to our customers.

Anyone can string together words and make assertions about their level of care and commitment to customer service. Apex Disaster Specialists would “prefer” to prove it.

We have a proud history of serving residential communities along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle. Apex Disaster Specialists is headquartered in Freeport, Fla., and has offices in Sulphur, Calcasieu Parish, La.

The mission of Apex Disaster Specialists is to protect and rebuild its communities while providing a world-class customer experience. We provide guidance and expertise in the areas of residential and commercial remodeling and rebuilding, water extraction, mold remediation, storm and fire damage repair, and biohazard cleanup.

For further information, visit www.apexdisasterspecialists.com

The state of Florida has now reached 21,019 cases as of April 14th, 2020. There have been a total of 2,841 hospitalizations and 499 total deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the state.
The state of Florida has now reached 21,019 cases as of April 14th, 2020. There have been a total of 2,841 hospitalizations and 499 total deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the state.

The State of Florida now has 21,000 COVID-19 Coronavirus cases.

The state of Florida has now reached 21,019 cases as of April 14th, 2020. There have been a total of 2,841 hospitalizations and 499 total deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the state.

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2020 Atlantic Hurricane Storm Names.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1st. In the Northern Atlantic Ocean, a distinct hurricane season occurs from June 1 to November 30, sharply peaking from late August through September.

One thing to note is that Atlantic storm name lists repeat every six years unless a name is retired from future use. The 2020 list is identical to the one used in 2014.

2020 Atlantic Hurricane Storm Names:

  • Arthur
  • Bertha
  • Cristobal
  • Dolly
  • Edouard
  • Fay
  • Gonzalo
  • Hanna
  • Isaias
  • Josephine
  • Kyle
  • Laura
  • Marco
  • Nana
  • Omar
  • Paulette
  • Rene
  • Sally
  • Teddy
  • Vicky
  • Wilfred

Dampness and Mold Assessment Tool for Schools and General Buildings

The health of those who live, attend school, or work in damp buildings has been a growing concern through the years due to a broad range of reported building-related symptoms and illnesses. Research has found that people who spend time in damp buildings are more likely to report health problems such as these:

  • Respiratory symptoms (such as in nose, throat, lungs)
  • Development or worsening of asthma
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a rare lung disease caused by an immune system response to repeated inhalation of sensitizing substances such as bacteria, fungi, organic dusts, and chemicals)
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergic rhinitis (often called “hay fever”)
  • Bronchitis
  • Eczema

Exposures in damp buildings are complex. They vary from building to building, and in different places within a building. Moisture allows indoor mold to multiply more easily on building materials or other surfaces, and people inside buildings may be exposed to microbes and their structural components, such as spores and fungal fragments. Mold may also produce substances that can cause or worsen health problems, and these substances vary depending on the mold species and on conditions related to the indoor environment. Moisture can also attract cockroaches, rodents, and dust mites. Moisture-damaged building materials can release volatile organic compounds that can cause health problems.

Researchers have not found exactly how much exposure to dampness-related substances it takes to cause health problems. Research studies report that finding and correcting sources of dampness is a more effective way to prevent health problems than counting indoor microbes. Therefore, NIOSH developed a tool to help assess areas of dampness in buildings to help prioritize remediation of problems areas.

Continue reading this article at the CDC Website.

Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mold 101: Effects on Human Health

From the National Capital Poison Center.

Mold is a non-scientific term for many types of unwanted fungi found both indoors and outdoors. Active mold growth requires moisture. Actively-growing mold damages the material it lives on, thereby impairing structural integrity. In addition, mold is associated with some untoward health effects in humans, including allergies and infections.

The Full Story

Mold is a non-scientific term for many types of fungi – unwanted, unappealing patches of black, brown, yellow, pink, green, smelly, fuzzy growths. Countless species of mold are found both indoors and outdoors.

“Mold” and “fungus” have many connotations, most of them unpleasant: musty odors, damp basements, moldy carpets, water leaks, soggy drywall, athlete’s foot, and poisonous mushrooms, among others. On the positive side, molds are also responsible for penicillin and blue cheese; yeasts are fungi (plural of fungus) used to make bread, beer, and wine; and some types of mushrooms are considered edible delicacies. And without fungi to break them down, the world would be buried in leaves, trees, grass, and garbage.

Although mold and its spores are literally everywhere, active mold growth requires moisture. Whether on visible surfaces or hiding behind drywall, in attics, or under carpets, indoor mold grows in the presence of excessive dampness or water. Also found in damp indoor environments are:

  • Bacteria;
  • Dust mites;
  • Break-down products of bacteria and molds, such as proteins, cell-wall particles (glucans) and volatile organic compounds (the actual cause of the musty odor associated with mold);
  • Airborne chemicals, gasses, and particulate matter caused by destruction of materials by growing molds.

Indoor mold may be unsightly and smelly, but the potential problems are more serious than that. By definition, actively-growing mold damages the material it lives on, thereby impairing structural integrity. In addition, mold is associated with some untoward health effects in humans, including allergies and infections. (Some health effects attributed to mold may in fact be caused by bacteria, dust mites, etc., found in mold-colonized environments. So-called “toxic mold” has been claimed as the cause of “toxic mold disease”; this syndrome remains undefined and “toxic mold” as a cause remains unproven. “Toxic mold” is also unproven as a cause of the various symptoms associated with “sick building syndrome”.)

Mold growth in homes, schools, and businesses should be eliminated for the sake of human health, structural integrity, and quality of life. Cleaning up small amounts of mold can be done by homeowners. Eliminating mold from large areas requires expertise and protection both for the removal specialists and occupants of the affected space.

Fungus and mold

Fungi comprise a vast world of organisms, perhaps as many as 300,000 species. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines funguses, or fungi, as “types of plants that have no leaves, flowers or roots.” Fungi include such seemingly unrelated substances as poisonous and non-poisonous mushrooms; organisms that can cause athlete’s foot, fingernail infections, and some types of pneumonia; molds found in cheese, peanut butter, mulch, hay, grains, and spoiled foods; and the black material growing in bathroom grout.

Fungi reproduce by means of spores which are spread through the air but land and survive on surfaces. Many spores can remain dormant for long periods under dry conditions, but typically develop into fungi in the presence of moisture.

Outdoors, fungi break down organic matter, including leaves, grass clippings, and dead trees. The fungi themselves constitute a large mass of material with many types of spores. These spores vary with the material on which they are found, the season, and the weather. At any given time, the same types of spores are found indoors because they enter through doors and windows and on clothing and shoes.

Molds are fungi. Homes and structures often provide many opportunities for mold spores to grow, even in the absence of frank water leaks: seepage through foundation walls and cellar floors, dehumidifiers and air conditioners, window condensation, defective plumbing, damp bathrooms, air filters, and potted plants.4 Different types of mold spores thrive on different surfaces; for example, the “yellow slime” found on hardwood mulch won’t be found growing in a tiled bath enclosure.

Common indoor mold species include Aspergillus, Alternaria, Acremonium, Cladosporum, Dreschslera, Epicoccum, Penicillium, Stachybotrys, and Trichoderma.  Specific types of molds can be tested for and identified. This allows comparison of indoor and outdoor mold species at a given location and time. If the two don’t correlate, at least roughly, it is possible that indoor mold colonies have developed. Even if they’re not in a visible location, such molds can release spores and other material into the indoor air.

The presence of molds or mold metabolites does not necessarily correlate with human illness, though. Tests identify the presence of these substances at a moment in time, and not necessarily the time frame in which individuals are exposed and illness develops. Also, the presence of these substances does not necessarily mean exposure: the fact that they are present doesn’t necessarily mean they were inhaled.

Note that identification of specific mold spores is not necessary when cleaning up indoor mold colonies. It may or may not be useful when treating health effects of mold exposure, depending on the circumstances. In any case, the role of testing for indoor mold is undefined, because as yet there are no standards for interpreting these tests.

Read the full article by visiting the National Capital Poison Center Website

Source: Poison Control Website

The Many Dangers Of Indoor Mold

The new year 2020 is officially here. But that never stops mold from creeping in and taking over homes and businesses. Mold is found everywhere and can grow on almost any substance when moisture is present. They reproduce by spores, which are carried by air currents. When spores land on a moist surface suitable for life, they begin to grow. Mold is normally found indoors at levels which do not affect most healthy individuals.

Because common building materials are capable of sustaining mold growth and mold spores are ubiquitous, mold growth in an indoor environment is typically related to water or moisture and may be caused by incomplete drying of flooring materials. Flooding, leaky roofs, building-maintenance or indoor-plumbing problems can lead to interior mold growth. Water vapor commonly condenses on surfaces cooler than the moisture-laden air, enabling mold to flourish. This moisture vapor passes through walls and ceilings, typically condensing during the winter in climates with a long heating season. Floors over crawl spaces and basements, without vapor barriers or with dirt floors, are mold-prone. The “doormat test” detects moisture from concrete slabs without a sub-slab vapor barrier. Some materials, such as polished concrete, do not support mold growth.

Significant mold growth requires moisture and food sources and a substrate capable of sustaining growth. Common cellulose-based building materials, such as plywood, drywall, furring strips, finish carpentry, cabinetry, wood framing, composite wood flooring, carpets, and carpet padding provide food for mold. In carpet, organic load such as invisible dust and cellulose are food sources. After water damage to a building, mold grows in walls and then becomes dormant until subsequent high humidity; suitable conditions reactivate mold. Mycotoxin levels are higher in buildings which have had a water incident.

Symptoms of mold exposure may include nasal and sinus congestion; runny nose, eye irritation; itchy, red, watery eyes, respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing, chest tightness, cough, throat irritation, skin irritation, headache, and persistent sneezing.[4] Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas.

Mold exposure has a variety of health effects, and sensitivity to mold varies. Exposure to mold may cause throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, cough and wheezing and skin irritation in some cases. Exposure to mold may heighten sensitivity, depending on the time and nature of exposure. People with chronic lung diseases are at higher risk for mold allergies, and will experience more severe reactions when exposed to mold. Damp indoor environments correlate with upper-respiratory-tract symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing in people with asthma.

Source: Wikipedia

Be Safe for the Holidays: Winter holiday fires by the numbers

House fires are very common for the holiday season. From fireplace fires to Christmas tree fires, there are many dangers that may be hidden in your house. Here are statistics about the dangers of holiday fires at home.

Christmas trees
  • Between 2012-2016, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 170 home fires that started with Christmas trees per year. These fires caused an average of 4 deaths, 15 injuries, and $12 million in direct property damage annually.
  • On average, one of every 45 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 139 total reported home fires.
  • Electrical distribution or lighting equipment was involved in 43% of home Christmas tree fires.
  • In one-quarter (27%) of the Christmas tree fires and in 80% of the deaths, some type of heat source, such as a candle or equipment, was too close to the tree.
  • More than one-fifth (22%) of Christmas tree fires were intentional.
  • Forty-two percent of reported home Christmas tree fires occurred in December and 33% were reported in January.
  • Two of every five (40%) home Christmas tree fires started in the living room, family room, or den.

Source: NFPA’s “Home Structure Fires Involving Christmas Trees” report

Holiday decorations
  • U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 800 home structure fires per year that began with decorations, excluding Christmas trees, in 2012-2016. These fires caused an annual average of two civilian fire deaths, 34 civilian fire injuries and $11 million in direct property damage.
  • Ten percent of decoration fires were intentional.
  • The decoration was too close to a heat source such as a candle or equipment in two of every five (42%) fires.
  • More than one-fifth (21%) of the decoration fires started in the kitchen. Fifteen percent started in the living room, family room or den.
  • One-fifth (19%) of the home decoration fires occurred in December.

Source: NFPA’s “Home Structure Fires Involving Decorations” report

Candles
  • On average, 23 home candle fires were reported each day between 2012-2016.
  • More than half (56%) of the December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to one-third (31%) in January to November.
  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve.

Source: NFPA’s “Home Structure Fires Involving Decorations” report

Holiday cooking
  • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.
  • Cooking equipment was involved in 20% of home decoration fires. This issue can happen when a decoration is left on or too close to a stove or other cooking equipment.

Source: NFPA’s “Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment” report

Fireworks
  • Ten percent of fireworks fires occur during the period from December 30 through January 3, with the peak on New Year’s Day.

Source: NFPA’s “Fireworks” report

Article Source: NFPA

Can Mold Survive Cold Winters?

One question that is often asked during the holiday season is if mold can die in winter elements. Active mold produces microscopic spores in enor­mous quantities which are spread by air currents—meaning they are almost always there waiting for the right conditions to reproduce. Extreme cold, freez­ing, and heat can deactivate spores but it does not kill them. They are resistant to desiccation. If temperatures go up after a cold spell, spores can reactivate and continue to grow.

The right conditions for mold growth vary by species. The relative amount of mold spores waiting for these conditions also vary – by geography, season of the year, and local weather conditions. There is a difference between indoor and outdoor conditions. But mold is tenacious; the spores lie dormant until favorable condi­tions occur.  Once it finds a host material, a spore needs only enough moisture and nutrients to germinate. With moisture, they will germinate if given the right combination of elevated temperature, poor air circulation, dim light, or accumulated dirt.

To sum it up, there are four critical requirements for mold growth – the presence of mold spores, available mold food, appropriate temperatures and considerable moisture. What are the best approaches to managing these elements to reduce or remove the potential for mold growth?

Mold spores are ubiquitous – they are literally everywhere. There is no reliable or cost-effective means of eliminating the spores from environments that humans inhabit. Therefore trying to control mold growth by eliminating mold spores is not feasible.

Mold needs organic materials to supply nutri­ents, therefore museum and library collection objects composed of organic materials are potentially at risk. Cellulose-based materials, such as cotton, linen, paper and wood, and proteinaceous materi­als such as leather, parchment, adhesives, and hair are particularly susceptible to direct attack by microorganisms. Even inhospitable materials, such as plastics, are not immune to fungal growth. How they sup­port growth is not fully understood. The ability to exist on almost any material illustrates why mold is considered a primary agent of deterioration.  Eliminating the host is not an option for controlling mold.

Most mold species grow very well at the same temperatures that humans prefer, which is why it isn’t uncommon to find mold growing in our own kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Unfortunately, collection storage temperatures dropped close to freezing are not cold enough to prevent mold. Temperatures below freezing won’t kill mold, but they do make it go dormant. Temperatures raised above human comfort levels are even more inviting to mold growth and combined with high humidity will cause abundant development of mold. Therefore, it is not feasible to control mold growth by controlling temperature alone.

Most mold species require the presence of considerable moisture for growth. When water or high relative humidity provides the necessary moisture, dormant mold spores will germinate, grow, and eventually release more spores. How much moisture is “considerable” in this case? Organic materials naturally contain a certain amount of water and they are hygroscopic, so when relative humidity goes up, they absorb water to achieve equilibrium with the environment. At 50% relative humidity, the moisture content of paper is approximately 7%; at 70% relative humidity, it is approximately 10%. Relative humidity levels at 70% or above can easily lead to mold growth. To be safe, it is generally recommended that relative humidity be maintained below 65% in collection storage areas.

Mold blooms occur in many colors and are sometimes confused with dust, dirt, foxing on paper surfaces, or cobwebs. Active mold in the early stages of a bloom has hair-like filaments in webs, which develop a fluffy or furry appearance as the bloom matures. Active mold may be soft and will smear when touched. It may also be slimy and damp. Inactive mold is dry and powdery and will appear to brush off materials readily. Both active and inactive mold can have a distinctive smell, which is often described as musty.

Mold can permanently damage the materials supporting it, and make them more suscep­tible to future mold contamination. It can produce stains and weaken structures of vulnerable collection objects. Mold and mildew excrete digestive enzymes that allow them to eat starches and cellulose, commonly found in book and paper collections. Cellulose in paper is difficult to digest; so many molds prefer the starch in cloth coverings on books and in paper sizing. This is why mold is often spotted on the bindings long before it grows on text blocks. Once mold has attacked the protein or starch sizing in paper materi­als, they will absorb water more easily. Mold growth can result in scattered spots, or foxing, on paper. Leather is particularly susceptible to mold and can be stained and weakened by it. Collection managers must be able to recognize signs of these problems and be prepared to take preventive actions.

The best way to prevent or control mold growth is to deny spores the moisture necessary for germination. Regu­lating the environment, especially the relative humidity, is essential for preventing collection damage from mold. Avoid storage of collections in or near damp areas such as attics, basements, sinks, windows, or directly on floors. Store all collection materials at least four inches above the floor. Avoid storing collection materials directly against outside walls where they are more susceptible to dampness, condensation, and leaks from upper floors. Correct any mechanical or structural problems that contribute to high humidity such as leaking pipes, poor drainage, cracked windows, roof leaks, deteriorated brick, etc. Check for malfunctioning or unclean humidifiers, standing water, or areas of previous water damage.

Maintain other environmental factors, such as adequate air circulation, to decrease the potential for mold germination and growth. A fan helps increase circulation. Proper ventilation can help keep materials dry, prevent mold spores from landing on objects, and reduce microclimates with high RH levels.

Source: imagepermanenceinstitute.org

A year since landfall, why do Hurricane Michael survivors still have insurance claims open?

It’s been a year since Category 5 Hurricane Michael stormed the Florida Panhandle, and residents are still cleaning up the mess.

Many are still waiting to close their insurance claims, leading them to wonder — what’s taking so long?

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis pointed his finger last month at a group many hadn’t batted an eye toward — public adjusters — state licensed professionals who negotiate and appraise insurance claims for policy holders.

Patronis told reporters during a press conference that public adjusters are the reason why the process is taking so long specifically stating he’s seen adjusters sitting back at theirs desks on “Facebook” instead of seeing to client contracts, according to a Tampa Bay Times article.

Patronis’ comments confused many, but none more so than perhaps public adjusters themselves.

“I do not know where the CFO got his facts to support this pronouncement,” said Dick Tutwiler, president of Tutwiler Public Adjusters in a blog post. “But given the gravity of his words, I think he should have enlightened folks with some credible facts and figures.”

Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10, 2018 near Tyndall Air Force Base with maximum sustained winds of 161 mph.

The damage was catastrophic.

U.S. Highway 98 only just became passable a year after Michael, said Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey. The west part of town, closer to the landfall zone, didn’t have an operating sewer system until 11 months later.

Michael leveled the coastal town and brought a reported storm surge of 9 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It also devastated towns far from the coast, like Blountstown in Calhoun County, which needed an entire replacement of its electrical distribution system, according to City Manager Traci Hall.

Altogether Michael was responsible for $25 billion worth of damage in the United States, the NOAA said.

Improvements have been made, but total recovery is still at least two years away, area leaders speculate.

After Michael dissipated a different storm brewed on the panhandle where insurance companies were flooded by nearly 150,000 claims — the majority being homeowners, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Total insured losses exceeded $7 billion, FOIR data showed.

Most claims have been processed, however 12 percent of insurance claims remain open as of September, leaving many to ask the question, why?

“We knew we were in over our heads”

Buddy Boyett, a lifelong resident of Mexico Beach, owned three properties in town that were each decimated after 2018’s storm. Two of his properties, a house and an apartment, were on the beach.

“When we were able to see the extensive damage, we knew we were in over our heads,” Boyett said.

Boyett has been the business owner of the glass company Window Wall Systems Inc. for 47 years, and has worked with insurance companies before, but he knew this was different.

“I’m a good glass man, but I’m not a good insurance man,” he said.

Which is why he decided to look into hiring a public adjuster and came across Tutwiler & Associates Public Adjusters in neighboring Panama City.

Tutwiler met with Boyett and walked through the property assessing what was lost at his house with a beachside view. Tutwiler meticulously made note of the loss of furniture and other small items Boyett hadn’t considered such as food and toiletries. It also helped that Boyett and his wife, Pat, had the foresight to take photos of their home before the storm.

“[Tutwiler] helped us get back 100 percent of everything we were owed. That was a positive experience,” Boyett said.

It should be noted that many policies require claimants to first pay for damages and losses themselves; insurance companies will cover those costs after they have been payed for.

Insurance companies originally offered Boyett $50,000 for his losses, but after working with Tutwiler he was able to receive $160,000, Boyett said.

He did not have the same experience with his condo experience which is part of a condo association, Boyett said. Members of the board decided not to hire a public adjuster despite Boyett’s advice. It has been a year and members of the board are still arguing with insurance companies about what’s covered and what was damaged by what.

“Was it damaged by a Cat. 5 wind or a Cat. 5 surge? Those details matter and if it’s not straight it slows the process,” Boyett said. “It’s been a nightmare for those of us who are not experts; which is most of us.”

“The problem is… we’re small”

Traci Hall still sees tarped roofs a year after Michael struck Blountstown, populated by 2,500 people.

The police station had its roof blown off during the storm and is still heavily damaged.

Acres of resident owned property are still covered with tree debris.

“The problem is getting a public adjuster or attorney to help these folks out, but I think the other issue we have is finding contractors to do the work. We’re small,” Hall said. “Local contractors aren’t hungry for jobs here. They’re not price gouging us or anything. They’re just in high demand. They say, ‘Here’s the price.’ It’s a take it or leave it kind of thing.”

Outsourcing to other nearby county contractors has been ineffective as well as the surrounding counties of Bay, Jackson, Gadsden, Liberty and Gulf are each facing their own similar problems and are backed up with high demand for contractor work.

Bracewells Flooring and Fencing store in Blounstown is up to its roof on repair work demand around town.

The process to get a new fence or have one repaired can take a long time, said Angie VanLierop, a Bracewells showroom manager.

“There’s a lot of work,” VanLierop said. “We’re going to be putting flooring in people’s homes for the next two years because so many people have to rebuild.”

The process for getting a new fence includes inquiring about damaged areas, making measurements and then offering a quote. Installation is estimated to begin as early as two months later, she said.

Despite the load of work that needs to be finished, Blountstown has recovered in big ways. The town was able to replace its electrical distribution system and was able to remove debris that made parts of the town impassable. The latter of which was a $9.5 million effort, Hall said. Blountstown is still waiting for FEMA reimbursements while it proceeds with major repairs.

“You’re never prepared for something like this. Luckily we were very good stewards of our public funds and we’re managing, we’re one storm away from being destitute,” Hall said. “I want say that there would be an end in sight, but every time you solve something, another issue comes up. Every step forward is another step back.

Public adjusting is not for the faint of heart

VanLierop finds that to this day every other customer coming into the store is fighting with their insurance company about a claim.

“[Insurance companies] will argue about every little detail. Like how did the water move into your house. Did it get there because of flooding or did it leak in,” VanLierop said. “A lot of people gave up fighting so their claim was denied.”

Like her customers, VanLierop is also dealing with insurance claims after an 80-foot-tall tree fell on her home. When asked if the process was being stymied by public adjusters, she said she wasn’t sure.

“I’ll say this, before last year there weren’t many people [in Blountstown] who could tell you what a public adjuster was, but I don’t think we would need them if insurance companies would just pay what they’re supposed to,” she said.

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis admitted in his press conference last month that insurance companies do shoulder some of the blame for dragging out claims, but ultimately laid the blame at public adjusters feet.

Public adjusters are licensed by the state to help bridge the gap between policy holders and insurance companies, working directly with the claimant.

Patronis posted a video just before the anniversary of Hurricane Michael asking residents what it is they need help with.

None of the 100 comments posted addressed an issue with public adjusters, but many of them did speak up about issues they have with their insurance companies such as Theresa Jordan.

“Our insurance company only gave us depreciation value. Is this legal? We haven’t been given enough money to fix our house. We can’t afford the labor costs so we are doing much of the repairs ourselves,” Jordan wrote on Facebook.

Patronis did acknowledge that insurance companies have moved slow with claims but didn’t mention how the claims process can naturally be slowed by clearing hurdles such as acquiring a basic building permit or a final certificate of occupancy.

He didn’t talk about insurance companies’ “actual cash value policy,” in which the policy holder puts up the money for damages with their own money and is compensated by insurance months and sometimes years later assuming they passed the audit, according to Tutwiler.

Nor did he acknowledge how the isolated geography of rural towns on the panhandle slows the claim process even further.

Patronis didn’t speak about any of those reasons and instead chose to lay the blame at Facebook-junkie, adjusters, Tutwiler said.

It’s not the first time Tutwiler has seen politicians throw public adjusters under the bus recalling similar finger pointing after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992.

“Let’s be realistic. There is no way given the complexity of major catastrophe adjusting any one professional group can be blamed for claim delays expressed by [Patronis],” Tutwiler said. Adjusting losses in these types of events where just about every rabbit hole that you can think of has to be addressed is not for the faint of heart.”

Currently, there are over 17,000 claims still open, with 12,000 of them coming out of Bay County, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Tutwiler expects the number go up for a few reasons. First, claims can reopen for a variety of factors including finding new damages, law ordinance issues and construction, Tutwiler said.

Second the statute of limitations for filing a claim in Florida is three years after the events of the storm.

“We’re going to have claims for a long time,” Tutwiler. “We get new claims daily, and if my experience has shown me anything, the last day of the second year, we’ll see even more.”

Source: (c)2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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