ATLANTA - Georgia homeowners frustrated with their insurance company would get some relief under a bill in the General Assembly.
House Bill 1310 aims to correct problems first raised by the FOX 5 I-Team. Homeowners and their insurance carriers argued over claims involving a certain brand of roofing shingles.
Atlas Chalet shingles.
"There is a problem that affects hundreds and thousands of people, but those same people are people who typically don’t have a voice," complained public adjuster and contractor Matt Hunter.
As we first reported in 2015, the Atlas Chalet manufacturer discontinued the uniquely-sized shingle years earlier.
An Atlas Chalet roof patched with a replacement shingle. The manufactuer discontinued the unique-sized shingle nearly a decade ago.
Whenever an Atlas Chalet customer suffered partial roof damage, some insurance companies would only pay to replace individual shingles, even though all replacements are larger than Atlas Chalet.
That left homeowners stuck either paying for a new roof on their own or living with a patch job that no contractor would warranty.
"I think my neighbors also wouldn’t have appreciated the fact that I would have had a Cabbage Patch Kids-style roof on my home," laughed Stephenie Cattonar of Garden Hills.
She said her insurance company resisted replacing her entire roof when only a small section was damaged in a storm. A blue tarp covered her roof for months before the advertising executive said she was forced to pay for her a new roof herself.
Stephenie Cattonar said her insurance company dragged out her claim for a new roof. To get the blue tarp off her house, she finally paid upfront and fought for 18 months to be reimbursed.
Cattonar eventually got the insurance company to cover most of the cost, but the dispute took a year and a half.
"Terrible," she said. "Unfortunate. Unacceptable."
When the FOX 5 I-Team first learned of the controversy in 2015, we brought an Atlas Chalet shingle to the office of then-Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
He was clear on what insurance companies should do.
"I think if they can’t match these shingles because they’re no longer being manufactured, then I think the insurance company probably ought to go ahead and satisfy the consumer and do the whole roof," Hudgens told us then.
But his office later explained the commissioner’s comments held no weight of law. Many carriers kept denying Atlas Chalet roof replacement claims.
This year, a group of roofers, adjusters, and consumer lawyers came up with House Bill 1310. Among other things, they say it would make it easier for homeowners to settle claims disputes through arbitration.
Even better for homeowners, it would require insurance companies replace the entire area — like an Atlas Chalet roof — if the new material doesn’t match the original.
"You can’t fix an Atlas Chalet shingle roof," pointed out Tim Varga, president of the Georgia Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. "You can’t use a discontinued product with a new product and consider it repaired right."
Supporters of HB1310 hope to convince Insurance Committee Chairman Eddie Lumsden to hold a hearing on the legislation.
Frustrated that a hearing on their bill has not been scheduled, supporters gathered at the Capitol last week.
That included the bill’s sponsor who says he’s fielded at least 100 complaints from constituents.
"We’re not saying everyone in the insurance business is a bad actor," explained Georgia Representative Emory Dunahoo. "When something happens we want to make sure we don’t fix a roof like a band-aid."
Some of the group marched to the office of the man who admits blocking the bill.
Insurance Committee chairman Eddie Lumsden and his wife own an insurance agency in Rome.
"I think the insurance companies have a product," said Lumsden. "It’s a contractual agreement. I’ve had the conversations with the insurance commissioner’s office, and they’re telling me that they do not have a substantial problem with the claims."
An Insurance Commissioner spokesman told the FOX 5 I-Team Lumsden is correct, few Atlas Chalet complaints are showing up in their online complaint portal. Insurance Commissioner John King also opposes HB1310, worried that it would actually lead to higher insurance rates.
"It doesn’t give us any more power than we already have," said spokesman Weston Burleson.
But consumer attorney Remington Huggins said he gets a steady stream of clients who are forced to sue their insurance company to get them to honor claims.
"Tennessee, Florida, these laws are implemented in those states," he said. "And all we ask is that the homeowners across the state of Georgia have the same representation."