Florida couple: New law will make insurance crisis for homeowners worse

Home is still unlivable after two and a half years

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An Orlando couple is still trying to get their home back after it was destroyed by a tornado two and a half years ago.

The couple is suing their insurer for breach of contract, and they say Florida’s insurance crisis is about to get worse for homeowners because of legislation that was just passed in December.

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Lauren Senninger and Ben Jones say they are the poster children for what can go wrong after a storm.

They traveled to Tallahassee to tell their story to lawmakers during the special session last month, making a passionate plea that they say fell on deaf ears.

“This is the worst-case scenario. It truly is, we have been out of our home since June of 2020, " Senninger said.

That’s when Tropical Storm Cristobol caused a tornado that hit Orlando and hit Senninger’s home.

“We ran into this closet and as my husband shut the door, he watched the roof fly off from a bedroom,” Senninger said.

Pictures show the roof gone from over a bedroom and the ceiling collapsing in another room and the living room, but Senninger says the biggest collapse was the relationship with her insurance company.

“We were given a fraction. A small fraction of what we needed to rebuild,” Senninger said.

“So they [the insurance company] estimated our amounts to be a little over $60,000. And it was $360,000 that we needed,” Senninger said.

She says that was what led them to file a lawsuit for breach of contract, because their property was damaged by a wind and rain event which “was covered under their policy” and the company “failed to fully indemnify them from loss,” according to the lawsuit.

Senninger said retaining an attorney had consequences.

“They haven’t paid a dime to us for rent to cover us which we absolutely are entitled to under our policy, since October of 2020,” Senninger said.

For a while they had a home they couldn’t live in, but still had a mortgage on, and now they have rent to pay on top of it. That’s what led them to Tallahassee.

Senninger spoke before the House Appropriations Committee particularly about one-way attorney’s fees. Florida had a statute that required insurance companies to pay a consumer’s attorney’s fees if the consumer sues and is successful in court.

She says without it they would never have been able to afford to sue their insurer.

“Now I’m going to pay for a lawyer too,” Senninger said during the meeting.

“Now I’m going to pay for mandatory arbitration. That’s what that means. It’s more money out of constituents’ pockets every time there is a problem,” Senninger said.

The same sentiment was echoed by others.

“We are putting the citizens of Florida in a position where they’re not going to have any chance to oppose any decision an insurance company makes unless they are independently wealthy,” an attorney who spoke at the meeting said.

“If we did not have friends and family to help us, we would have no ability to rebuild our home. We are still waiting on the insurance company to do the right thing,” Senninger said.

The legislature did pass the bill that did away with one-way attorney’s fees.

The couples’ parents helped them pay off the mortgage, but they still need the money to rebuild.

And an interesting note — Senninger and her husband are both attorneys but they don’t practice in that area of law, so they still had to bring in an attorney.

The couple’s case is scheduled for trial in February.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.