Engineering Money from the Misfortune of Others
Engineering Money from the Misfortune of Others
Elderly woman remaining in home riddled with mold and other damages to her home caused by the hurricane forced to sue Forensic engineering experts accused of rendering false expert report that insurance company relied upon in denying full payment of insurance moneys
Forensic engineering firms make tens of millions of dollars from performing inspections and issuing “expert engineering reports” for insurance companies in property damage insurance cases, such a natural disaster event like a hurricane. The engineering firms that have been able to handle tens of thousands of inspections after natural disaster events such as Hurricane Wilma have flourished financially. If the insurance company follows the advice of the forensic engineers in every case, then the lower the damage report, the less money the insurance company agrees to pay out. There may be thousands of reports that need to be issued in short periods of time, which has become big business for engineering firms, but some of the risky behavior has been caught by authorities, resulting in some States sanctioning engineering firms and jury damage awards for massive form-based cut-and-paste reports that summarily deny that damages were caused by hurricane or other covered events.
In a suit just filed in Palm Beach County, an 88-year-old widower believes that exactly what happened. She has filed a 50+ page lawsuit against Pronet Group, Inc. and two of its Engineers – Luis Ulloa and Kenneth Smith – for abuse of the elderly and negligent misrepresentation – alleging they falsified an Engineering Report so that the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company could deny full payment to allow proper repair of the widower’s home – which has forced her to continue living to this day in virtually unlivable, mold-infested damaged home.
Beatrice Seligson, a widower, religiously paid her home property insurance premiums for 22 years. Like the majority of us, she never made an insurance claim and has no skill or experience in property damages. Like many who suffered property damages after Hurricane Wilma, she suffered devastating property damage losses. She reached out to Liberty Mutual Insurance Company for payment of the damages. Liberty Mutual admitted that Ms. Seligson had suffered significant property damages, and made some payments, which according to an independent general contractor and engineer, still unfortunately fell woefully short of what was needed to repair the home. Like most, she didn’t have the money to front the payments for the repairs that were needed and were supposed to be covered by the insurance policy and paid by the insurance company.
Liberty Mutual Hurricane Experts said they thoroughly inspected the property and agreed there were hurricane damages, but that full payments had been made. Thankfully, for Ms. Seligson, she had her retired son try to help out to try to get Liberty Mutual to pay. After nearly 5 years of trying to get sufficient payments and begging the company to understand that Seligson simply wanted her home fully repaired, Liberty Mutual finally agreed to retain an “independent” national forensic engineering firm on her behalf to inspect the property and render another report. This firm was Pronet Group, Inc., and its two engineers assigned to the project were Luis Ulloa and Kenneth Smith.
Despite that Liberty Mutual had already documented in writing that the property did suffer substantial hurricane-related property damages, the Pronet team inspected the premises and issued a bizarre report that said there were no hurricane damages on the property. Liberty Mutual wrote a letter to the Seligsons, stating that because the Pronet team of engineering experts found no damage, that Liberty Mutual would not be paying more money. The conclusion made no sense to Seligson, but she couldn’t get the contradiction fixed.
The Seligsons sought out well-regarded property damage attorney Scott Mager, who had extensive experience in the area and even previously served as the lead counsel from a multi-billion dollar insurance conglomerate, who awarded him their National Litigator of the Year Award. Mager, who has handled many of these cases, sued Liberty Mutual and was eventually able to compel them to pay more in 2013 – nearly 8 years after the property damages. However, according to the independent general contractor and engineer, there are still more moneys need to properly repair the property.
Attorney Mager shared the frustration faced by the 88-year-old widower. “You pay for homeowner insurance so that when there’s property damages from events like hurricanes, the insurance company will properly investigate the matter and timely pay all moneys necessary to repair the property.” He added, “I guess the engineering team thought they could take advantage of an 88-year-old woman by rendering a report that benefits them. They thought wrong.”
The complaint itemizes an array of alleged outrageous conduct, such as the Pronet engineers conclusions about water damage that required water to travel upward and jump around in a manner inconsistent with gravity; that roof damages were related to alleged “truss modifications” that never occurred; that the damages were just like other homes in the area but never looked at any of the other homes (which would have shown that claim to be utterly false); that wall cracks and other damages were caused by moisture and temperature changes in the home without any idea of the actual temperature changes at any time; that the purpose of their Report was “to determine the origin and cause of the mold/mildew … and determine whether the reported damages are related to Hurricane Wilma,” yet neither Ulloa, Smith nor ProNet rendered any conclusion as to the “origin and cause” of the mold or mildew, nor performed even any scientific test to make such determination; that roof damages were caused by “defective” roof materials without performing testing of the materials as required by the recognized scientific organizations; concluding that roof materials were defectively installed without knowing how they were installed or ever speaking to the builder/installer or having any data whatsoever to support the claim, nor utilizing the specific scientific standards accepted in the industry, among other claims of wrongdoing.
“I have never seen such an unsupported and reckless report in my entire 25-year career,” Engineer Zimmer echoed the sentiment, saying it was “disgusting” that forensic engineering firms would engage in actions that make it look like they are prostituting themselves to get more business from insurance companies.