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  1. Real Estate

Citizens Property Insurance settles big Tampa Bay sinkhole case after executive director tours damaged condos

An entrance sign to Cloverplace condos. A recent $12.7 million jury verdict against Citizens has which has refused to pay on sinkhole claims filed by residents of the Cloverplace Condo Association in Palm Harbor. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
An entrance sign to Cloverplace condos. A recent $12.7 million jury verdict against Citizens has which has refused to pay on sinkhole claims filed by residents of the Cloverplace Condo Association in Palm Harbor. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published May 1, 2018

PALM HARBOR — Citizens Property Insurance, hit with a $12.7 million verdict in March, has settled its long-running legal battle with a Palm Harbor condo association over sinkhole claims.

No details were released, but "we absolutely killed it," said a jubilant Ted Corless, the attorney who represents the association.

In a news release, the state-run Citizens said it would pay claims up to the policy limits for repairing 109 homes in the complex. Because the verdict covered estimated costs for just 83 of the homes, the settlement amount could be substantially higher than $12.7 million.

As a result of the agreement reached Monday, Corless said Citizens no longer will be involved with any Cloverplace claims and residents will work with their own contractors and engineers to stabilize their homes.

RELATED COVERAGE: Citizens, hit with $12.7 million verdict, acted in 'monumental bad faith,' homeowner says

The company is "pleased" with the settlement, executive director Barry Gilway said in the release.

"Citizens' objective has always been to assure that necessary remediation takes place and that a contract for repairs has been executed," he said. "This settlement assures that funds are paid specifically to complete verified repairs."

As far back as 2007 Cloverplace residents began to notice signs of sinkhole activity including stucco peeling of the walls and doors not shutting properly. The homeowners association sued Citizens in 201l after it refused to pay claims on 83 of the homes. One owner, Dennis McKenna, accused the company of acting in "monumental bad faith" as property values plunged and it became hard to sell Cloverplace condos.

In March, a Pinellas County jury announced its verdict, thought to be one of the largest ever against Citizens. But the company said it would appeal, claiming it "is not in the best interest of Citizens or the community" to pay cash without requiring repairs to be made.

Both sides credited Rep. Chris Sprowls, whose district includes Cloverplace, with bringing them together to work out an agreement. The lawmaker encouraged Gilway to visit the community and see the damage for himself.

"After Gilway went out there and reported back to (Sprowls), within 24 hours everything changed," Corless said. "(Sprowls) really was the beginning and the end of the solution -- it really came from him.''

The Pinellas Republican said Gilway realized "these folks just want to fix their homes"

"We expect that any insurance company operating in this state, especially one that is government-backed, live up to its obligations," Sprowls said. "The residents of Cloverplace rallied together to bring about justice for their cause and I was pleased to work with both parties to come up a resolution that insured wrongs have been righted."

Corless, the attorney, said the homeowners association plans to "immediately terminate" its insurance coverage with Citizens and, presumably, find a new carrier.

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Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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