by: Todd Ulrich, Gerry Mendiburt Updated:
ORLANDO, Fla. - Action 9 exposed how a small water leak can trigger a monster repair bill if consumers sign the wrong contract. A local woman told Action 9's Todd Ulrich a restoration company hijacked her insurance claim, and she was forced out of her home for months.
“What has this been like for you?” asked Ulrich.
“Pure hell. It's killing me,” Darlene Masturzo said.
Masturzo discovered a hot water tank leak four months ago. A friend recommended a restoration company to fix it. She said Pro Choice Remediation told her to sign an assignment of benefits or AOB.
“They said, 'Yes don't worry. We handle everything. We work with the insurance company," Masturzo said.
The contract gave Pro Choice Remediation complete control of the claim. The company removed walls, cabinets and flooring and hired a mold tester. It hired another company to store Masturzo's furniture and clothes.
Pro Choice and its vendors billed her insurance company more than $30,000 for a water leak in a 500-square-foot manufactured home.
“Do you think they ran up the bill?” asked Ulrich.
“Oh, absolutely, they ran up the bill,” said Masturzo.
After spending all that money, nothing has been rebuilt and the owner was forced out of her house for months.
Masturzo still has to hire a contractor to rebuild her kitchen for another $10,000, but she vows: no AOB this time.
“I hate assignment of benefits. It should be outlawed," Masturzo said.
The business address for Pro Choice Remediation is a home in east Orange County. No one answered the door when Ulrich tried to contact company president Mel Sanchez. Later, on the phone, Sanchez told Ulrich the mold testing showed real risks and all the work the company had ordered was necessary.
But AOB critics, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said some contractors use AOB contracts to drive up costs without obtaining estimates and then hire attorneys to collect.
“They're billing insurance companies for outrageous claims, some of which were never performed and I think a day of reckoning is coming,” said Mark Wilson, of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
“They took me for a ride, and I'm upset about it,” Masturzo said.
State regulators said some insurance premium increases are blamed on AOB-inflated claims and they want legislators to attempt reforms again next year.
Opponents say AOB contracts give consumers better coverage results.
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