After Hurricane Irma: FJA Stands Ready to Defend Consumers

A message from FJA Executive Director Paul Jess:

Hurricane Irma formed in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and is the strongest hurricane ever recorded outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, with winds peaking at 185 mph.  This catastrophic hurricane made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm on September 11th and impacted every region of the state. Damaging winds, rain, and coastal storm surges moved from South to North.journal hurricaneIn its wake, Hurricane Irma left widespread power outages, flooding, and property damage. Preliminary loss estimates from property information analytics company CoreLogic® set the total insured and uninsured loss for residential and commercial properties at between $42.5 billion and $65 billion. The company says of that, an estimated $13.5 billion to $19 billion in insured loss is attributed to damage from wind for both residential and commercial properties.

Property can be rebuilt or replaced. Lives cannot.

At least 75 people died in Florida because of the hurricane. At least 11 of those deaths happened at a nursing home in Hollywood, Fla.

In the aftermath of the storm, FJA members raised awareness of how 20 years of neglect have left nursing home residents at risk to the most vile mistreatment. In wake of the tragic deaths, reporters interviewed FJA Board member Steve Watrel about the state’s nursing home laws, and FJA Board member Nathan Carter wrote a published op-ed saying, “Florida law treats nursing home residents like dogs.”

After more than a decade of relatively calm hurricane seasons, the deaths, the damage, and fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Irma have spurred lawmakers to begin working on a package of bills to be reviewed once they return for committee meetings scheduled in advance of the January opening of the 2018 Legislative Session.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed a select committee to look at steps to improve Florida’s short- and long-term readiness and response capabilities and outlined three areas for the committee members to address:

Protection of Elderly, Disabled, and Other Vulnerable Persons;
Efficient Evacuation and Reentry; and
Mitigation of Future Storm Damage

According to published reports, Speaker Corcoran specifically identified legislation requiring assisted-living facilities to have generators and fuel available for power outages as another item to be included on the agenda.

Judging by the number of insurance lobbyists registering, lawmakers also are predicted to discuss property insurance issues. FJA created an Insurance Emergency Response Task Force to serve as a resource for lawmakers. The volunteer task force is comprised of FJA members statewide who help lawmakers answer constituent insurance questions.

Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We fully expect big insurance lobbyists and their Florida corporate supporters to follow that advice. We are on watch for them to brazenly use Hurricane Irma as cover to slip their anti-consumer agenda through the Legislature. Please know, our FJA Lobby Team is ready to protect access to our civil justice system and defend our practices and clients (already hit hard by Hurricane Irma) from falling victim to corporate attacks on consumer rights.

Unlike big, greedy corporate executives looking to twist the state’s consumer protection laws to create a windfall from Hurricane Irma, we are Floridians. This is our home. These are our people, and many are hurting. We will come together to protect them from anyone who tries to take advantage of unfortunate events.

As FJA members, you have multiple opportunities to join together to protect our state’s citizens, two of which are our FJA Insurance Emergency Response Task Force and The Florida Bar Young Lawyer Division’s Statewide Emergency Legal Services Response Plan (the “Florida Plan”).

Members volunteering for the FJA Insurance Emergency Response Task Force serve as a resource to legislators by working with their constituents and answering questions related to property insurance claims. The task force is chaired by Steve Marino of Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A., Miami. I encourage all attorneys interested in participating in task force activities to please contact FJA Communications Director Ryan Banfill at (850) 521-1047 or rbanfill@floridajusticeassociation.org.

FJA members volunteering for The Florida Bar Young Lawyer Division’s (YLD) Statewide Emergency Legal Services Response Plan help with ongoing and future disaster relief efforts. Under the plan, volunteer lawyers simply answer consumers’ questions over the phone without taking them on as a client. The volunteer lawyers return calls placed to the YLD’s 1-800 hotline or at FEMA centers. There is a pressing need for volunteer lawyers to return these calls.

For more information and to sign up as a volunteer contact Lynn McCartney at lmccartney@floridajusticeassociation.org for the FJA Task Force, or visit https://flayld.org/get-involved/disaster-relief-fema-hotline/ for the Florida Bar YLD program.

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