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Tampa's Merlin Law Group expands nationwide footprint

Chip Merlin, owner of Tampa-based Merlin Law Group, is adding nine lawyers to his firm, which focuses on disaster recovery claims.
Published Jun. 11, 2016

William F. "Chip" Merlin, a Tampa lawyer dubbed the "master of disaster" for his niche practice of representing insurance claims for natural disaster victims, is expanding his domain.

Merlin Law Group is adding nine lawyers (including three partners from a rival firm), opening a Chicago office and expanding its presence in Phoenix and West Palm Beach.

The news, expected to be announced today, will cement Merlin among the biggest firms in the country in its field of disaster claims recovery, rivaled only by one New York law practice.

"I wish insurance companies would stop trying to take advantage of their own policyholders, but they won't, so we'll keep taking the fight to them," Merlin said. "By expanding the playing field, we are leveling the playing field for consumers all across the country."

Merlin founded his firm in 1985, concentrating on representing insurance policyholders. Unlike most other law firms, attorneys in his practice are not partners but work under separate contracts, which means that in any given year, they can make more money than him, Merlin said.

His team, which will expand to 41 lawyers effective this week, has chased everything from hurricanes to mudslides, wildfires to earthquakes, in search of property owners who feel they've been shortchanged by their insurer.

Since 2012, some of his lawyers have been ensconced in the Northeast following up on lawsuits tied to Hurricane Sandy.

Perhaps the biggest success in Merlin's history came when the firm represented the Port of New Orleans on a $150 million claim against Factory Mutual Insurance over Hurricane Katrina damage. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Hurricane-prone Florida, ironically, has been more quiet.

"If I had to bet my business on the possibility of a hurricane hitting, I'd be broke now," Merlin said. "It's been 10 years since a major hurricane hit Florida."

Most recently, Merlin Law Group this month helped secure a $3.2 million verdict for the owners of two apartment complexes that were damaged in a freak hail storm in Phoenix in October 2010. The Travelers Indemnity Co. had argued that part of the damage was due to normal wear and tear.

"These buildings got beat up in 2010, but unfortunately, that was only the start of the fight," said Merlin lawyer Phillip Sanov, who represented the plaintiffs. "We took this to trial not just for these two buildings, but to send a message to every other victim of this and other storm denials: When your insured property is damaged, you never have to take no as an answer."

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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