Sandy damage victims can have tainted insurance claim denials re-opened
Victims whose Hurricane Sandy damage claims may have been denied or reduced due to fraudulently altered insurance inspection reports will soon be able to have their filings re-examined.
The extraordinary decision was announced late Wednesday after Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) met with U.S Senators Robert Menendez and Corey Booker of New Jersey and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The announcement means that the potential for corrective action, already sought in litigation for 2,200 Sandy-related claims, will soon be extended to some 144,000 insurance claims. The claimants will soon be provided with details on how they can have their filings re-evaluated.
A federal judge last November ordered that engineering reports used by insurance companies to deny claims be released to New York homeowners who had filed lawsuits challenging the denials. As documents were released, lawyers for some of those homeowners began discovering that documentation of damage from Superstorm Sandy flooding had been edited out of original engineering inspection reports.
Exclusive reports by New Jersey 101.5 this month revealed how the pattern of fraudulently altered reports was mirrored in the Garden State.
The four Democratic senators from New Jersey and New York, who had been pressing FEMA to investigate such irregularities for months, hailed what Menendez called "a process. . . that will enable affected homeowners to get reduced or rejected insurance claims re-opened without having to go to court. All will be able to get access to the original engineering reports on their homes to determine whether questionable alterations had negatively affected their claims..
"That's a very significant turnaround in this process," Menendez said. He also said FEMA has the funds needed to cover any payouts that might result from re-opened claims.
"This is a good day for people who have been going through months and months of frustration," Booker said.
On April 13, a task force will meet with FEMA to discuss how this program can be changed "so that this never happens again," Menendez said.
The four senators last week called on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to hold Congressional oversight hearings to “to further examine FEMA’s handling of the Sandy claims process and its oversight of the private insurance companies that facilitate the program on its behalf."
David Matthau contributed to this report.