Life after bankruptcy, a six-month path to insurance coverage

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Barbara Pellegrino has a story that tens of thousands of Southwest Florida residents can relate to.

It’s about hurricane damage, a dispute with her insurance company and finally bankruptcy.

“You have to take a deep breath,” Pellegrino said of her six-month journey to Fox 4 Investigates.

“I need to get my house fixed.”

Her Port Charlotte home sustained damage to her roof, soffits, pool cage and fence.

Pellegrino says her contractors estimated it would cost more than $100,000 to repair the damage.

Her insurance company, she says, offered about a quarter of that.

Then came bankruptcy.

In February, United Property & Casualty Insurance went out of business and was ordered into liquidation.

“That’s enough to give you a stomach ache. It was a really raw feeling of ‘What do I do now?'” Pellegrino said.

State records show that UPC had approximately 138,000 customers before Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida.

At a meeting in October, UPC said 30,000 customers, similar to Pellegrino, had filed claims.

The company claimed to have lost $1 billion.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, less than a third of those claims have been paid out.

“When you pay for a service, you expect to receive that service. Unfortunately none of us got that service,” said Pellegrino, who lives in Pennsylvania full-time.

“I got $24,000. I’m kind of lucky that I got $24,000 because I know people who got zero.”

These unpaid claims are now being picked up by the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association or FIGA.

“Unfortunately, it won’t be a really quick process. Due to the insolvency, it will take some time,” said Mark Friedlander with the III.

“We’re going to experience some pain this year,” Friedlander said. “We have already seen a company become insolvent. Is it possible that other, smaller, regional insurers will fail this year? Very possible.”

If we see more bankruptcies, Florida’s newly appointed Hurricane Ian chief recovery director says it’s best to try to file with Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort.

If that doesn’t work, Tasha Carter urges customers to “contact their insurance agent to contact all insurance companies and see if they would be willing to get a policy on their home.”

Pellegrino was able to take out citizen insurance last week.

But their fight is not over yet.

The insurance company changed its rules during its board meeting to give UPC customers who still have damage 90 days to have it repaired.

Pellegrino plans to pay for the repair out of her own pocket and hopes it will be reimbursed by her new insurance carrier.

“Insurance will not pick you up with damage. I was fortunate that the government opened up the program so they could accommodate us,” Pellegrino said. “But they really don’t have an option.”