- Read more on Sandy’s Aftermath
It may be a cold winter in New York, but there's no let-up in the heat that's being brought to bear on FEMA and its contract flood-insurance companies. Last week, newly appointed FEMA official Brad Keiserman faced a grilling from CBS News "60 Minutes" reporters — and admitted candidly that many homeowners in the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have been ripped off on their flood claims (see "The Storm After the Storm," by correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi). "I'm not gonna sit here and conceal the fact that it happened," said Keiserman. "'Cause in the last three weeks, I've seen evidence of it."
Texas-based trial lawyer Steve Mostyn has filed class action racketeering lawsuits against several insurance companies and their contract engineering firms, spurred in part by New York engineer Harold Weinberg, who has testified that managers at an engineering firm altered the conclusions of his investigation report of a flooded house (see: "Texas Trial Lawyer Mostyn Changing the Game in Sandy Insurance Battle," Coastal Contractor, 2/23/15).
Evidently, Weinberg is not alone. "60 Minutes" interviewed another New York engineer, Andrew Braum, who says the same thing happened in cases that he worked on: the wording of his report was altered to reverse his conclusions, without his knowledge. "I wanted to call [the homeowners] from day one," Braum said. "I wanted to tell them that this is not me. I didn't do this."
And now, the case may be expanding beyond engineering reports. According to a report in the International Business Times, adjuster reports may also have been doctored in the back office in order to reduce or deny flood claims (see: "Hurricane Sandy: Buried Adjuster Report Raises New Fraud Allegations Against FEMA Flood Insurance Program," by Catherine Dunn). While most insurance claims don't involve engineers, every report has an adjuster — and if adjuster conclusions were being altered off site, there could be many more cases that might qualify for inclusion in the class action lawsuit
"Attorneys are moving quickly to obtain and review a new set of documents: adjusters' reports," reports the International Business Times. "The Merlin Law Group, representing clients in more than 300 pending Sandy flood-insurance lawsuits, is in the process of serving subpoenas to the independent adjusters and the adjusting firms that are contracted by insurance carriers. 'We want the draft copies of the estimates, and email exchanges between them and the carriers,' said lawyer Charles R. Mathis IV."
A case in point: New Jersey homeowner Humphrey Uddoh, who told the International Business Times that his house was visited by not one, but two, insurance adjusters — "one a welcome guest, the other quite suspicious."
"The first man, Uddoh says, assessed that the home had sustained flood damage totaling at least $80,000. The second man, Uddoh says, showed up under false pretenses, but eventually admitted the true nature of the visit: An insurance company had dispatched him to 'undercut' the initial estimate." Uddoh says the insurance company offered him $334 — and quashed an original adjuster's report figuring the damage at thousands of dollars more. Adjuster's reports are the foundational factual report every insurance claim is based on, notes the International Business Times. Says Uddoh's attorney, Mitchell Shpelfogel: "If that part of the process is manipulated, altered, or tainted, the entire process is manipulated, altered and tainted."
In an interview with Coastal Connection, attorney Chip Merlin said: "The insurance company every single time asks for more time, and more excuses not to pay. FEMA oughta tell these insurance companies, look, we expect you to treat the policyholders — United States citizens — as honestly as what you treat anybody else. Tell everybody what's in the claim file, tell everybody what you did on the adjustment of the claim, and be transparent. We're the United States of America, we expect you to do it this way. And that's not what's happening. The attorneys for the write-your-own carriers are now trying to delay things, and trying to hide, and they're trying to protect their clients who might have been doing something wrong."