So I was reading one of those consumer-help columns in the newspaper the other day and the columnist was trying to guide a reader through an insurance dispute over a water leak. The columnist was witty and helpful and suggested the following vigorous plan of action: call the insurer to discuss the problem, then call some more, then write a letter, if that fails appeal the decision, and if all hope seems lost, write a strongly worded letter to the insurance commissioner, the newspaper, the Vatican and anyone else who will listen to your prayers. But shockingly he never mentioned perhaps the most powerful option for a frustrated consumer who has hit the insurance company stonewall: call a lawyer.
All right, I know what you’re thinking. Lawyers? Who wants to deal with them? They’ll charge an arm, a leg and 1/3 of your first-born if they can get away with it. But what most people don't' realize is that (in Florida at least) insurance companies that wrongly deny a customer’s insurance claim will often be responsible for paying the customer's attorney's fees in addition to the claim. What this means for the consumer is that a good, experienced insurance attorney will take their case at NO CHARGE or on a contingency if the case has merit. So why not have a lawyer look at it for free?
As you can imagine, a recalcitrant insurer may quickly change its hardline position when faced with the prospect of paying the consumer's legal fees on top of the claim. I know that when I trained insurance companies on how to process claims we didn’t fear the angry letter. We didn’t fear the angrier letter. We didn’t even fear the appeal. We feared paying penalties and fees. So remember, maybe you can chisel through a stone wall. But I like a sledgehammer -- works better every time.
Russel Lazega is an attorney and author of several of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law: West’s Florida Practice Series Volume 7 and West’s Florida Insurance Law & Practice. Mr. Lazega represents accident victims, insurance policyholders and condominium associations and is based in Dania Beach, Tallahassee, North Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Contact: www.Lazegalaw.com.
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