Residents whose homes were damaged by the September hurricanes are filing lawsuits in U.S. District Court against various insurance companies, claiming their efforts to receive payouts are going ignored.

Homeowners with so-called “force-placed insurance” through Scotiabank who say the bank has refused to file claims for hurricane damage on their mortgaged properties have filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Two federal lawsuits also have been filed against Mapfre Praico Insurance Company, claiming that the company has refused to honor its policy obligations and is instead offering “low-ball” payouts to those desperate to repair their storm-ravaged homes.

St. Croix lawyer Vincent Colianni II filed a class action lawsuit on March 20 on behalf of plaintiffs Daryl Richards, Loretta Belardo, Angela Tuitt-Smith, Bernard Smith, Yvette Ross-Edwards, Avon Cannonier, Anastasia Doward and Joanna Meyers, and all others similarly situated.

The lawsuit claims that Scotiabank allowed its master force-placed insurance policy to lapse in August 2017 but didn’t tell its borrowers and continued to collect force-placed insurance premiums for borrowers who had mortgages with the bank.

“When the borrowers made claims under the force-placed policy after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the Virgin Islands in September 2017, Scotiabank falsely informed the borrowers it would forward their claims to the insurer even though it knew there was no coverage,” according to the complaint. “Scotiabank’s wrongful conduct and fraud have left borrowers without funds to repair their homes.”

Meanwhile, Mapfre Insurance is facing two federal lawsuits.

St. Thomas lawyer David Cattie filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of homeowners Margaret and Daniel Taylor, who said they’ve started repairing their home with their own funds because Mapfre has refused to honor its policies and provide the payout they say they are owed.

The company sent an insurance adjuster to do a token assessment, and has repeatedly made “low-ball” offers that don’t begin to cover the full cost of damages, according to the lawsuit.

While Mapfre relied on the ever-present risk of Caribbean hurricanes to charge “exorbitant” premiums for decades, “now that a significant hurricane has damaged the territory, Mapfre is willfully, deliberately and intentionally refusing to comply with the terms and conditions of its insurance policy with Plaintiffs,” according to the lawsuit.

In addition, St. Thomas lawyer Michael Sheesley filed a lawsuit against Mapfre concerning property damage to his own home and has demanded $1 million in damages.

“Mapfre, despite selling policies which explicitly cover damage from a hurricane, was completely unprepared to respond to the claims from Hurricane Irma,” Sheesley wrote in his complaint.

The company said in an email sent in October that it inspected more than 100 homes in less than three days, which is “absolutely preposterous and shows the completely lack of good faith on behalf of Mapfre in upholding their end of the contract for insurance,” Sheesley wrote.

Mapfre hired a single insurance adjuster, Herb Horowitz, who went on a 20-day trip to Israel within a month of the hurricanes, “thereby suspending all work that Mapfre was doing in St. Thomas to process claims,” according to the lawsuit.

“While Mapfre is certainly inept, its refusal to hire enough qualified adjusters is also by design,” Sheesley wrote, arguing that the company saves money by hiring a handful of inexperienced adjusters who take too long to assess damage, and provide estimates well below market rates to policyholders desperate to repair their roofs, and likely to take any payment amount offered.

— Contact Suzanne Carlson at 340-714-9122 or email