In the wake of the devastating and unprecedented damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) today announced a bill (A-2287)) to create the Homeowners Bill of Rights to protect hard hit families from unscrupulous actions by insurance companies. He also announced a second bill (A-1092), sponsored by Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Woodbury), requiring insurance companies to promptly process claims resulting from storm damage.
In addition, Silver directed the Assembly Insurance Committee to conduct a series of public hearings in the near future to examine the response of insurance companies in the aftermath of the storm.
"The tide of frustration is only rising for those who have already endured so much. How we react in moments of crisis to ease human suffering defines who we are as a people, and anything short of swift and compassionate action is unacceptable," said Silver. "For home and business owners impacted by Sandy, wading through the complexities and limitations of their insurance policies following a catastrophic event is an unnecessary burden. Taken together, these measures will create more informed insurance buyers and help speed the recovery process for families and businesses."
Silver said his office and many other Assembly members have received numerous calls and complaints from home and business owners detailing slow, incomplete and inadequate responses from insurers.
"People depend on their insurance companies to be there for them in their time of need, but too often we are hearing horror stories from property owners about poor service and inadequate settlement offers," said Silver. "It is time to get to the bottom of this and hold insurance companies accountable for their actions. This is why I am directing the Assembly Insurance Committee to hold public hearings so that we can further develop policies that work for consumers."
The Homeowners Bill of Rights, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore), requires insurers to provide property owners with an easy-to-understand disclosure notice detailing their coverage in the event of a catastrophic occurrence; how and when to file a claim; their rights if a claim is denied or a settlement offer is insufficient; and where and how to obtain coverage for catastrophic events.
The bill also directs the State Department of Financial Services to create a Consumer's Guide on Insuring against Catastrophic Losses and requires insurance companies to inform property owners where they can obtain it so they can be better educated and understand their rights.
"The long road to recovery doesn't end when the waters recede. For communities like those on Staten Island that weathered Superstorm Sandy, the Homeowners Bill of Rights helps ensure that home and business owners have the coverage they need to rebuild following these increasingly frequent and violent natural disasters," said Titone. "I applaud the Speaker and my colleagues for putting the needs of our neighborhood families and local businesses first."
"Almost 85 percent of my district including my own home and office were destroyed by Sandy and it is unacceptable that beleaguered home and business owners are stuck in limbo, unable to rebuild pending action by insurance companies," said Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park). "It is our sincere hope that these measures will create more informed insurance consumers and hasten recovery for communities like the ones in Southern Queens and Rockaway."
"We can no longer tolerate overly complicated insurance policies that increase the likelihood that those devastated in a storm lack the coverage they need," said Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Nassau County). "By implementing new standards for insurance providers and making insurance policies easier to understand, we are taking down barriers between those devastated by catastrophic events and the help they need. This gives me hope for my constituents and all who felt Sandy's wrath."
"Sometimes David needs a little help standing up to Goliath and this is one such situation where consumers need our help holding these large insurance companies accountable," said Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D- Coney Island, Dyker Heights). "I applaud my fellow legislators for joining together to stand up to the insurance companies on behalf of struggling home and business owners across the region."
"Communities like ours on Staten Island have waited long enough for action by insurance companies," said Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island). "This inaction is resulting in an unnecessary and unacceptable delay for those who have lost so much. These measures provide welcome relief and represent an important step forward in the recovery process."
Due to slow responses from insurance companies after Superstorm Sandy and recent hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee, Skoufis has introduced legislation to establish claim and settlement standards for insurance companies to follow when a disaster strikes.
"For those struggling to rebuild following the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy, the long wait for an insurance company to process, approve, and pay for claims is unacceptable," said Skoufis. "Property owners deserve prompt action from insurance companies on their claims and policies that are easy to understand. In supporting this legislation, I hope my Assembly colleagues and I can provide much-needed relief to communities in need."
Skoufis said the bill tightens the timeframe requirements for insurers to respond to claims resulting from disasters and emergencies. Under the measure, insurance companies would be required to begin investigating these settlement claims within six days, and notify property owners within 15 days as to whether their claim has been accepted or rejected, including their right to appeal if it has been rejected. If a claim has been accepted, insurers are required to pay it within three business days.