A Palm Beach County homeowner filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging the state's property insurer of last resort revoked her insurance discounts — and raised her premium — based on a false report.
In the ongoing controversy over how Citizens Property Insurance Corp. handles its home reinspection program, Stephanie Ritchie accuses Mueller Services of improperly flagging problems with her roof and garage door, among other issues.
"I was very upset," said Ritchie 43, of Tequesta, who saw a premium increase of $1,771. "It was a big burden. What makes me so upset is that I had everything to get the discounts."
Ritchie's suit, which seeks class-action status, claims that Mueller did not pay inspectors until they determined that a homeowner did not qualify for the discounts "despite the inspector's independent judgement that the homeowner was entitiled" to them.
Citizens was not listed as a defendant, though a Pembroke Pinesman filed a similar suit against the state insurer earlier this year.
Officials from Mueller and Citizens could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Citizens issued a brief statement, saying it is not a defendant in the Ritchie lawsuit, which was filed in U.S District Court in West Palm Beach.
Both suits say Citizens is trying to make up for lost revenue because of state-mandated discounts and capped insurance rates.
Citizens has a surplus of more than $6 billion but says it may not have enough money to pay claims after a major hurricane. The insurer has raised rates and reduced coverage, hoping to push some of its 1.4 million policyholders into the private market.
But many customers say they have no other options for insurance.
"Citizens is only focused on numbers and raising rates, not real people," Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida, said in a statement. "One year they tell policyholders to harden their homes to reduce rates, now they want to change the rules in the middle of the game."
Citizens' reinspection program, started in 2010, was designed to reward homeowners for bolstering their homes against storm damage by upgrading roofs, doors and windows. But it has faced increasing scrutiny because customers have lost discounts as a result of a reinspection and saw their premiums rise sharply.
A few local homeowners have disputed claims made on Mueller Services' inspection reports.
Sandy Teich said the company reinspected her Coconut Creek home in late 2011, just two years after the original inspection. She said Citizens raised her premiium from $3,700 to $4,565.
Tech said the report misstated the way her roof is attached to her home and said that her front door was not hurricane safe because painters had painted over a sticker saying it was. She had documents proving it, but said the inspector didn't want to see them.
"What they were telling me, the reasons they were giving me for raising my rates, were not justified," Teich said. "I'm not an insurance agent, but I have a pretty hurricane-safe house, and it does not make sense for me to have to pay $4,500 a month."
POMPANO BEACH With just three days of Florida vacation left before their scheduled return home, Kathleen and Stephen Miskell decided to try something daring and new: parasailing.
“She was all excited about it because she had never done it before,” said James Mulcahy, Kathleen’s father, from his home in Manchester, Conn., on Thursday. “She said they thought about being towed on a banana boat, but she thought this would be safer.
Flying about 150 feet above the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday in a tandem harness with her husband, Miskell, 28, somehow broke free of her safety restraint about 3:30 p.m. and plummeted into the sea.
Two crew members aboard the tow boat reeled in Stephen Miskell, 31, and circled back to pick up Kathleen, but she could not be revived, said Pompano Fire Rescue spokeswoman Sandra King said.
Stephen Miskell, who remained in Florida on Thursday, was “very distraught, as is the extended family,” said Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one of four agencies looking into what happened.
The parasailing company was identified as Wave Blast Water Sports, located in the 1300 block of South Ocean Boulevard inPompano Beach.
Pino said the investigation was focusing on the equipment. “It was a potential malfunction of the harness,” he said, although there were no immediate signs that it had broken. “We are going to do a methodical check of each part of the harness, parachute and ropes.”
Pino said investigators from the FWC, the Coast Guard and the Broward Sheriff’s Office would look at the operating company “to see if there is a history of violations, but at present that does not seem to be the case.”
The National Transportation Safety Board would also play a role, said Pino.
Parasailing operations are common in South Florida, with costs ranging from $50 to $100 for a ride that usually lasts about 20 minutes. An estimated 70 to 120 commercial parasailing companies operate in Florida, according to the FWC.
It is not for everyone, said Pino. “It is up to each individual to make a decision, weighing the risks and rewards. Some people would like to be 200 feet in the air, seeing the sights, and others would not.”
Google on Friday said that websites accused of copyright infringement may soon appear lower in search results lists. As a result, such websites are less likely to be seen by searchers and less likely to be visited.
"Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site," said Google SVP of engineering Amit Singhal in a blog post. "Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.
This is a bad idea. It is the very evil that Google in its unofficial motto says it will try not to do.
Google for years has made changes in the name of its users. Now, it's making changes at the expense of its users. People use Google because it continues to provide the highly relevant results for submitted search terms. Reducing the relevance of links associated with a copyright complaint may please aggrieved copyright holders but it's a betrayal of Google's bargain with its users. What's next, distorting Google Maps when users seek the location of flea markets, where all manner of unlicensed content may be sold?
CBS still wants to evict “The Glass House” from the airwaves.
The network moved ahead with its lawsuit against ABC last week by amending its filing that alleges ABC copied elements of “Big Brother” for its new reality TV competition series “The Glass House.”
CBS attorneys added several more objections to the show now that ABC has aired several episodes, arguing that “ ‘Glass House’ employs the same plot, themes, mood, setting, pace, characters, dialogue, sequence of events and other concrete elements making up ‘Big Brother.’ ”
CBS originally sought to stop “Glass House” from premiering in June, but a federal judge refused. U.S. District Judge Gary Feess agreed with ABC attorneys who argued that many of the filming techniques employed on “Glass House” are not unique to “Big Brother” and are used in other reality TV shows.
Both shows employ dozens of cameras to monitor a houseful of contestants vying for a cash prize, but Feess ruled the shows are likely to play out very differently.
Among the similarities that CBS added to its lawsuit were that both shows feature an “obligatory older” and “openly gay” player, “showmances” as a plot element and “generally comfortable, cloistered house” environments.
CBS says “Glass House” violates copyrights and trade secrets from “Big Brother” and alleges that dozens of former “Big Brother” staffers and producers now working with ABC on “Glass House” may have violated non-disclosure agreements.
“Glass House” airs Mondays on ABC.
The 14th season of “Big Brother” is currently airing three nights a week on CBS.
One of the Florida’s major tomato growers will pay two women $150,000 and change the way it deals with harassment complaints to settle a federal lawsuit.
According to the Fort Myers News-Press the women worked in DiMare Ruskin’s Immokalee fields for three months and were sexually harassed by supervisors then fired when they complained.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought the lawsuit. According to records, DiMare agreed to establish a nationwide anti-harassment policy and train employees about anti-discrimination laws. For the next three years, DiMare must report to the EEOC how it handles any discrimination complaints.
EEOC officials say sexual harassment against women in the agricultural industry is a problem.