Back in 2007, the insurance industry lobbied for the passage of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for disputed sinkhole claims – a process which they cleverly entitled “Neutral Evaluation”. The concept was that if there was a disagreement between a property owner and an insurance company as to any issue related to a sinkhole claim, either party could request that the matter be submitted to the neutral evaluation process. Upon submission to neutral evaluation, a “neutral” third party expert would review all available reports and estimates and render an opinion as to the cause of the loss and/or the cost to repair. (Please refer to my previous post re: Neutral Evaluators for a further explanation as to why I place the word “neutral” in quotation marks.)
The new wrinkle in this process is that Citizens is now electing to ignore the recommendations of the neutral evaluator – even when Citizens demanded that the property owner submit to the process! The scenario we are seeing is that as soon as Citizens senses a dispute between its experts and the property owner, Citizens will immediately file for neutral evaluation in order to prohibit the property owner from filing a law suit. BUT – if the neutral evaluator then decides that Citizens’ position on the claim is incorrect and that either coverage should be found or a better repair method is warranted, Citizens will then refuse to honor such decision and will mandate that the property owner agree to Citizens original position.
Clearly, Citizens’ current tactics are in direct contravention of the purpose of the neutral evaluation statute. Citizens new stance on this process is especially shocking in light of the fact that the neutral evaluation process was a product of the insurance industry’s efforts to limit property owners rights with regard to sinkhole claims. Clearly, it is now more important than ever to seek the advice of a qualified lawyer who specializes in sinkhole claims in order to best protect your rights against the insurance company.