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What if your homeowner’s insurance company offers a settlement you aren’t happy with?

MIAMI – CBS News Miami Investigations digs into your rights regarding your homeowner’s insurance. Specifically, what happens if they offer you a settlement you aren’t happy with after you make a claim?

The rules have changed in Florida if you decide you need to go to court to get what you are owed. CBS News Miami’s Joe Gorchow explains your rights.

“It feels dirty,” said Morgan de la Madriz, describing how her home currently feels and looks. “It feels like our home is dirty.”

Madriz has a full house in Kendall. A husband, two kids, and two dogs. The smiles we saw outside the home mask concerns inside.  

“We have a sunken shower, and you could see the title separating from the floor,” said Madriz while giving us a tour of her house.

In January 2021, Madriz says she was about to put her daughter to bed when she noticed something.

“We had an overflow into the hallway from the bathroom,” explained Madriz. “Water was leaking for days, and I had no idea where things were.”

Madriz showed us the Master Bathroom, one sparingly used since the initial leak 2.5 years ago. Current issues remain in both bathrooms and when flushing the toilet and using the shower.

“The water seeps,” said Madriz. “It doesn’t drain all the way. We can only use one bathroom. We have to be careful with what we do. We can’t run multiple appliances at the same time.”

Madriz tried to go through insurance to help pay for repairs. She ended up in court, suing her carrier.

“It’s undisputed that there was a drain line that was broken underneath their kitchen that resulted in water seeping out under their foundation, which caused damage to their foundation, their showers, and their flooring,” said Randy Weber, an attorney for the Madriz family. “Created problems with backups in their toilets and sewer flies.”  

Weber represents the Madriz family. Last July, a civil jury sided with the Madriz family in the insurance claims dispute, awarding them more than $200,000.

The carrier filed an appeal. Since the case is still in court, Madriz has not received a dime following the initial jury verdict. The carrier argued its inspection did not find actual property damages caused by the water overflow; therefore, coverage did not apply. 

Weber believes a substantial change to state law will discourage families like Madriz from taking their claims against insurers to court.  

“It’s unfair to the customer,” said Weber. “It denies access to court. It puts the burden on the homeowners.”

In a special session last December, the legislature removed the right to attorney fees in residential and property insurance lawsuits in what its proponents of the legislation claim was an attempt to seek to stabilize a volatile insurance market.  

“What we don’t want is the many, many thousands of cases, really garbage litigation, that drives up the costs of everybody in this room, and that’s listening,” explained Florida House Speaker Paul Renner in February of 2023. 

“Essential steps to keep the Florida property insurance industry alive because we had seen six insolvencies last year,” shared Mark Friedlander with the Insurance Information Institute.

Friedlander believes two dozen more Florida-based carriers would have dissolved without tort reform. The change made Florida the 41st state to eliminate guaranteed rights to attorney fees.

“Big mess on your hands regarding lawsuits, legal defense costs for insurers,” said Friedlander.

He tells us Florida accounts for 9% of property insurance claims nationally but accounts for roughly 80% of lawsuits against carriers.

Still, even with tort reform, he explains Floridians should expect insurance premiums to remain relatively high.

“I have to deliver some bad news that in our determination, there is no clear path to lower rates right now,” said Friedlander.

He does see some light at the end of the tunnel.

He points to two factors. Five new insurance companies were approved to write residential policies in Florida. The insurance of last resort in the state, Citizens, moving its policyholders to private carriers. 

“It’s going to be prohibitive for most people to find a lawyer who will take their case,” said Weber. “It’s going to lead to unbridled abuse of Florida policyholders. It denies access to court.” 

Gorchow asked Madriz: “Would you even be able to make it this far if you weren’t guaranteed attorney fees?”

“No, absolutely not,” Madriz replied.

Gorchow then followed that up by asking: “Would you not have even considered suing?”

“We wouldn’t have been able to,” said Madriz. “The only option would have been to sell the house and to leave.”

Financial worries linger with her family case still not settled in court. Unable to find an insurance company to ensure their family home, their bank put them on forced-placed insurance. It raised their mortgage by $1,000 a month.

“I don’t know how many more months we have to stay here,” said Madriz. “We can t afford this.”

In the days to come, we speak with insurance carrier insiders. One shows us how some insurance companies manipulate software to underpay damages. Another takes inside the strategy behind insurers pushing claims cases to the courtroom. 

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