Citizens Insurance to pay sink hole claims directly

Citizens wants to change how it pays claims for cracks

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new plan by Citizens Insurance would have the company selecting any paying contractors directly for sinkhole repairs.

The company said it guarantees the job is done right but others say policy holders are being shortchanged.

Sinkholes that are as damaging as the one that opened in Dunedin this week are covered under an insurance clause called "catastrophic ground collapse."

Every homeowner's policy in Florida has the clause, but where it gets sticky is when the ground shifts, causing cracks in walls and driveways.

Citizens Insurance now wants to change how it pays claims for the cracks. Beginning early next year, if approved by the Citizens board, the insurer will select the repair company and then pay them directly.

Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said while voluntary, it is an effort to make sure damage is fixed.

"I mean, your neighbors want to make sure that the properties next to them are sinkhole free or have at least been repaired to the point that their properties are not endanger," said Peltier.

The direct pay plan was encouraged in the 2011 law as a way for citizens to cut its sinkhole losses.

Insurance experts say beginning with a voluntary direct pay scheme is a smart way to go.

"When you do a program of this magnitude, to make it mandatory right off that bat, it's going to have some kinks," said Lisa Miller, an insurance industry consultant. "So let's get the kinks work out, get homes repaired and make sure everybody is in a good place."

But the direct pay plan is likely to become mandatory in the near future, and advocates for policy holders said it is trampling on homeowners rights.

"There's just going to be a lot of bias and they're going to undercut the work so that they can get on to the next job and make more money," said Nicole Vinson, Policy Holders of Florida.

Next week, Florida realtors will unveil a web application that will help you understand the risk of sinkhole activity in your neighborhood.