For nearly two years, Hector Figueroa has been living with constant reminders of the damage to his home.
Outside, sandbags that once held a protective tarp remain on the roof. Inside, he showed NBC 6 some of the rotted wood on the ceiling, water damage he says was caused by a spring storm.
“I like things to be exactly where it was originally, with no issues,” he said. “I’ve been very patient, longer than I wanted to be patient, to be honest.”
The Navy veteran says in May 2020, while he was out of town for a few weeks, a relative who was checking on his house found water coming into the home.
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“He came in at a time when it was raining, actually, the storm was happening during that week,” said Figueroa. “I explained to him, put buckets, get towels.”
When he returned from his trip, Figueroa said he reached out to roofers to try to figure out what was causing the leak.
“They believe it had to do with the high windstorm,” said Figueroa.
He eventually filed a claim with his insurance company, which was partially approved and he received a check for $12,720.
An adjuster he hired had estimated damages at over $90,000.
“That was the total cost to fix the roof or replace it, I should say,” he said. “They didn’t want to pay out.”
He said that’s why he eventually filed a lawsuit against his insurance company in November 2020.
“I didn’t think it would take this long,” said Figueroa.
In March 2022, they went to trial.
A trial transcript shows attorneys for the insurance company called into question the actual date the loss happened, saying Figueroa and his adjuster had given different dates.
The company also said their inspector went out to the property and determined “the flat roof was worn and torn” and that “there was no evidence of any storm-created opening on that flat roof or the tile roof” so the company decided it was "not going to provide coverage for a roof.”
In the end, a jury sided with Figueroa, awarding him an additional $55,000.
“And from that point on, the company still refused to pay,” said Figueroa. “They want to have a retrial.”
Jesus “JD” Moises is a property insurance attorney. His law firm is representing Figueroa in the case.
“In the past, it might have taken four to six months to settle a case like that,” Moises told NBC 6.
He said Figueroa's case is a good example of what has become more common since the pandemic, with insurance companies less willing to try to work with homeowners and avoid costly legal expenses.
“In the past, we were a settlement-based law firm and we were lucky if we saw one trial a year,” he said. “Now, we’re set for 20 to 25 trials a month.”
According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2021, over 100,000 property claim lawsuits were filed in Florida. They said no other state had over 900.
“And that includes Louisiana, which has seen over 600,000 hurricane loss claims in the last two years,” said Mark Friedlander, a spokesperson for the Institute.
Friedlander said the data shows the litigation in Florida is “out of control”.
“There are some law firms that are literally filing property claim lawsuits by the thousands,” Friedlander said.
“From what I’ve heard from people on the other side is, the issue is not that it’s difficult to identify those parties, but sometimes it’s more difficult to stop them,” Moises said.
It’s why Moises says the state should focus on providing resources to address the fraud.
“The people doing something wrong should be held accountable solely,” Moises said.
“I know there’s probably claims out there that probably are not legitimate,” said Figueroa. “But I think that’s a small percentage of that.”
Figueroa hopes lawmakers in Tallahassee remember the struggles of people like him when they reconvene for a special session later this month.
“We need to find a resolution right away,” he said. “And hopefully the state of Florida can draw more insurance companies to help us out and be more competitive.”
A special legislative session on property insurance is scheduled for the week of May 23.