NO.ida2.adv.13.jpg

A damaged home is decorated for halloween 2 months after Hurricane Ida struck southeast Louisiana in Golden Meadow, La., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

After receiving a deluge of complaints in Hurricane Ida's aftermath, Louisiana's Department of Insurance launched a voluntary mediation program in October aimed at resolving disputes of up to $50,000 between residential policyholders and their insurers. 

Three months later, only 151 policyholders have signed up for the program — and of those, only 12 cases have been resolved. 

"It's getting off to a slow start, no doubt," Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said in an interview. "It's a disappointing number to me."

To spur participation, the Department of Insurance issued updated rules for the program on Jan. 3. The revisions clarify that the $50,000 threshold doesn't include deductibles or already agreed-upon settlements. It also allows insurers to split the $600 price tag for the mediation with policyholders. 

In order to begin the mediation process, the insurer or policyholder must contact one of two participating mediation firms: Mediation & Arbitration Professional Systems (MAPS) in Metairie or Perry Dampf Dispute Solutions in Baton Rouge.

Both parties have to be in agreement to enter mediation. The 90-minute hearings were originally scheduled to occur in person, but with the resurgence of the coronavirus, the Department of Insurance clarified that mediations could occur remotely over telephone or Zoom. 

The scoop on state politics in your inbox

Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.

Donelon said that so far, MAPS is the only firm that's closed a case.  

"The very complex language that comes with any insurance policy is bewildering, in many cases, to lay people," Donelon said, when the program was first launched. "A mediator in a relaxed conference room, rather than a court room atmosphere, with give-and-take discussion and questioning back and forth, can sometimes make the situation more understandable and resolve disputes."

Policyholders are allowed to have an attorney join them during the mediation, but their names must be supplied to the mediator ahead of the hearing. Both parties are free to bring adjusters, appraisers, contractors or other experts to the mediation.

The program is expected to run through June 30, 2022.

Are you facing issues with your insurer or lender in the aftermath of hurricanes Ida or Laura? Send your story to bpaterson@theadvocate.com and a reporter may reach out.

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater