Toxic drywall might have insurance repercussions
By LLOYD DUNKELBERGER
H-T Capital Bureau
Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 8:41 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE – Floridians dealing with the mess of Chinese drywall could be facing a double-whammy, the state’s insurance commissioner said Tuesday.
“It’s a very, very significant problem,” McCarty told a meeting of the House Democrats.
Citing estimates that about 100,000 homes may have been impacted nationally and could result in $8 billion to $10 billion in repair costs, McCarty said that ultimately, the federal government would have to come up with a funding solution — while noting that some estimate about 35 percent of those defective buildings may be in Florida.
But McCarty, who has taken a tough stand on rate regulation for insurance companies, made it clear that, in his opinion, the insurance industry is not responsible for the drywall problem.
“This is not a covered claim. This is not a covered peril,” he said. “We need to come up with a plan for a funding source to take care of this.”
McCarty said the financial responsibility lies with the Chinese drywall manufacturers rather than the insurance companies.
While saying “we are certainly out there making insurance companies pay what they’re supposed to pay,” McCarty said it would be “unfair” for state regulators to try to force the companies to pay for something that is not covered in the policies.
“Chinese drywall is not the result of a fire, a storm, a broken pipe or any of those things. It was a malfunction based upon a defective material that was installed in the building. And that historically has been excluded from a homeowner’s policy,” he said.
Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, questioned McCarty about insurance companies’ refusing to renew policies in homes with the defective drywall. Kriseman said it was unfair for homeowners to be denied coverage when the government has yet to come up with a plan to allow them to repair their homes.
“Unfortunately, homeowners are caught between a rock and hard place,” McCarty said.
He said insurers were not likely to drop customers solely because of the Chinese drywall. But he said insurers could used a host of other legitimate reasons to drop those customers.
Residents who move out of their homes because of the noxious fumes or other problems caused by the drywall could be putting their policy renewals in jeopardy, McCarty said. There is an existing “underwriting standard” that allows companies to drop coverage of unoccupied dwellings, he said.
“There is competent substantial actuarial evidence to suggest that homes that are unoccupied are a higher risk and for many cases people won’t insure it,” McCarty said.
And McCarty said he would be reluctant to urge lawmakers to try to reverse that practice. “I think we have to be very circumspect about forcing companies to take risks for which they are not collecting a premium,” he said.
McCarty said he had no solid estimates on how many Floridians may have lost their coverage because of drywall issues.
But he told House Democrats that the Office of Insurance Regulation was working with the congressional delegation and other state insurance regulators to try to come up with some solutions for the problem. He said although the drywall problem may be “exacerbated” by Florida’s high-humidity conditions, the problem will be emerging in many other states.
“We need to find a funding source to address this issue,” he said.