GCN Exclusive Report
Homeowner’s Rights Battleground
Leave it to a local homeowner, heartbroken at the complete loss of his home, told he would be denied coverage even before the adjuster saw the slab and with nothing to lose to take on the biggest issue facing the State of Mississippi right now.
By Mark Proulx - Special to GCN Filed 1/11/07 Updated
Nine months ago, Kevin Buckel began a long, arduous journey to try and right a wrong done to him. After Katrina destroyed most of Long Beach and left him nothing but a slab, the mobile insurance units moved in with tents to start processing claims.
Even before Kevin saw the adjuster, he was told by the Nationwide insurance rep, “You’re most likely going to be denied.” And sure enough…he was right. His agent had told him the same thing as so many other insurance reps: No need to carry flood insurance, he was coverage under hurricane insurance.
“But that was one of many lies,” Kevin recalled. “They flat out denied me.”
Infuriated at the blanket denials of coverage up and down the coast, the slow process of getting adjusters to the scene, no payments even on meritorious claims, Kevin basically said enough is enough.
He called the Insurance Commissioner’s office and got no satisfaction. His pleas to his insurance company did nothing. Finally, he happened to be surfing on the internet and found something that both intrigued him and infuriated him at the same time.
Both Texas and Florida had put together a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights that actually gave power to the homeowners in a fashion that allowed policyholders due process not allowed in Mississippi. It set down the rules of doing business in those states and, even though larger markets, made it known that the homeowners – not the insurance companies – were the entities to be protected.
Kevin started to pull the basics from these bill of rights and start a grass-roots level support network to raise these issues to a level of government that had the power to make changes.
He constantly badgered the Insurance Commissioner’s office about it for months without effect. About two months ago, he decided enough was enough and brought the issue straight to his local state representative, Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian.
“Mr. Buckel advanced this legislation and as representative government, it’s my job to bring important issues like this to the capitol,” Peranich said in a telephone interview. “Because of his efforts and the research he put in and the amount of people he rallied to his cause, it made our job a lot easier. Tomorrow (Jan 12th), we plan to submit his proposal with enhancements to the Insurance Committee, headed by Mark Formby (R-Picayune) who has said that once we get this important piece of legislation before his committee, he will want Mr. Buckel to testify and share his ideas on how we change make these important changes”
“We feel strongly that this is a common sense kind of issue that should have been taken care of long ago. Not only does he have my support, but we have about seven other representatives as co-authors from different counties – not all from the coast – that have signed on to this bill.”
Originally, Kevin says, he received a lot of advice from many different sources that made it clear that this was going to be an uphill battle. Undaunted, Kevin pushed and pushed until he got the audiences he needed to put forth his version of a bill of rights that securely handed the homeowner the means to expect that the insurance companies would act in good faith and work for the policyholder.
Kevin was able to muscle up enough support from Peranich (who still lives in a FEMA trailer) and Formby, thereby creating a bipartisan political “buzz” in Jackson over creating legislation that would not only save the state money, but finally force insurance companies to pay what they were contractually obligated to pay and help the thousands of Mississippians stranded without relief even almost a year and a half later.
“It’s interesting how all of a sudden when we get support for this that the insurance commissioner puts out his own bill of rights,” Buckel stated. “Since I’ve been involved in this, it’s my understanding that there are a lot of people interested now in promoting it. (AG Jim) Hood is working on his own version and all of these will go before the Insurance Committee. We have a lot of support for this now and I really appreciate all the hard work Ms. Peranich has put in. Her support got us going and because of her, we are going to see this happen.”
Buckel has put his original basic bill of rights out on his website for the public to see and invites comments.
Also, he plans to track this bill by publicly announcing the elected officials who do or do not support this bill for the homeowners.
GCN spoke with Diane Peranich this morning about the co-authors of this
bill going before the Insurance Committee. Here are the co-authors:
No Teeth in Insurance Bill of Rights - GCN Editorial - by Mark Proulx