SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - It's a homeowner's insurance nightmare
difficult to imagine: A fire destroyed a Seminole County family's home, and then the family found out the claim was rejected because of its credit history.
And this may be happening more frequently than one might think.
The family's memories and so much more wiped out when a fire gutted its home near Oviedo. Incredibly for Jose and Evelyn Vazquez, their worst nightmare came later, when their $400,000 homeowner's insurance claim was denied.
That shock and pain still overwhelms Jose Vazquez.
"I lost everything, you know," he said.
The state fire marshal ruled the
fire was accidental.
Vazquez paid his premiums, but Universal Property and Casualty denied coverage because of his credit history from five to 10 years ago.
"We pay, and we think we're protected, and I don't know," Vazquez said.
Two months after the fire, Universal insisted on interviewing Vazquez, under oath, about a $1,500 credit card judgment from 2002 and his voluntarily returning a vehicle he could not afford in 2008.
"I asked them what did that have to do with the fire, and I got really defensive," Vazquez said.
He claims when he applied for the policy in 2010, the company said it checked his credit history, and he never knew about the judgment.
"I didn't think something like that was allowed, big companies like that," said Vazquez.
Action 9 brought the Vazquez case to the Florida Department of Insurance in Tallahassee, where the agency's consumer advocate, Robin Westcott, was alarmed by this kind of
"You want this practice to end?" asked Action 9's Todd Ulrich.
"I do, I do," said Westcott.
Westcott's office found at least a dozen cases where Universal dug into past credit histories, then denied current claims after its customers had paid premiums for years.
Westcott called that abusive.
"Do not use credit for the sole purpose of denying a claim. It's inappropriate," she said.
Westcott wants a formal state investigation.
Universal Property did not respond to several requests from Action 9.
Jose and Evelyn Vazquez have since hired an attorney to fight the denial.
"They are looking for something to deny the claim," said Jose Vazquez.
Just this week, the consumer advocate confirmed the state is investigating the company's claim denials.