Action 9: State insurance ruling could help hundreds of homeowners

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ORLANDO,Fla. - There's a big victory for homeowners who think one of Florida's biggest insurance companies denied their claims because of past credit problems.

Action 9 first exposed the practice and how it devastated a Seminole County family whose home was destroyed by fire.

Nine months after fire gutted their home, Jose and Evelyn Vazquez have real hope. A new state ruling forces the insurance company to reopen their claim.

"It's about time somebody is sticking up for us, the small people," said Jose Vazquez.

The Vazquezes called Action 9 after Universal Property and Casualty denied their $400,000 claim. The fire was ruled accidental but Universal denied the entire claim because Jose Vazquez failed to disclose credit problems from years ago.

"I lost everything, you know," he said.

Action 9 took their case to Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate, who had already raised big concerns about Universal's policy. State investigators found 300 other cases like that one, where Universal denied claims based on a customer's credit history.

Now, in a ruling, the Office of Insurance Regulation finds Universal unjustly denied the claims. The regulators say Universal must reopen those cases, change its policies and pay a $1.2 million fine.

"You are not going to treat the consumers of our state this way, and you'll be penalized very heavily for doing so," said Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott.

Jose and Evelyn Vazquez have been forced to live with friends since the fire and can't believe this nightmare is almost over. "It feels like someone is actually out there helping us now," said Vazquez.

Universal could appeal the agency's ruling. The company did not return Action 9's calls.

Consumer experts think this sets a precedent applicable to all insurance companies that deny claims based on credit.

The company has been told to reopen Jose Vazquez' claim and consider only the fire, which was ruled accidental.