Pointless disputing that politicians, lawyers and insurers are among the breed that the world could most easily do without. It’s common knowledge.
Conventional wisdom has it that arguing with an insurer is like wrestling a pig in a mud bath. After a while you realize he actually relishes it. Then again, the same might be said of politicians and lawyers.Then there is this funny one from Woody Allen: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”
But it was no laughing matter on Monday when I took a call from a friend who happens to be, yes, a lawyer. “Something sinister is going on among these insurance companies,” he told me. “They seem to be covering up some fraudulent local transactions involving at least one Insurance Brokerage company.”
I resisted the temptation to ask if the sky was still blue and listened to the rest of what he suspected had been going on for at least three months. “Without going into specifics,” he said, “I was sort of fore-warned about the so-called best prices being offered by a broker, when I visited a local insurance company recently.” He said I’d be saving many people a lot of trouble if I would investigate what he had told me.
By Wednesday I had contacted several victims and at least one suspect broker.
George Elisee owns a legitimate business. He is into model-homes construction. Like any smart businessman, he has always seen to it that his properties are adequately covered. For the past eight years, Elisee had insured his vehicles with S&A Insurance Brokers Ltd without complaint—until recently. Elisee picks up the story: “About a month ago a friend asked that I check out S&A’s owner. The friend claimed he’d heard certain disturbing things.”
His warning fell on deaf ears. On Tuesday Elisee received a text from his friend requesting that Elisee call him urgently.
“What my friend told me was that he knew of several individuals who had paid their insurance premiums through the suspect broker but their payments were not made to the respective insurances,” Elisee told the STAR.
This time he took his friend’s advice to take a closer look at his insurance broker. But his several calls to S&A went unanswered. He then directed his secretary to call St. Lucia Motor and General Insurance Company where he confronted a nightmare.
His secretary, whom he had asked to follow up on the matter, discovered that Elisee’s insurance with them had been cancelled on August 8, even though Elisee had paid the broker for coverage up until March 2015.”
Elisee provided the STAR with documents that seemed to support his claims.
“I paid my insurance premium for this year going into next year through this broker, only to find out this week that my vehicle is not insured,” Elisee said. He is outraged because he says that he has not been covered since March 2014, without any information from St. Lucia Motor and General Insurance Company.
“It was only after I contacted them that they claimed they did not know how to reach me. Their correspondence was forwarded to my broker, who obviously left me none the wiser.”
George Elisee says he intends to pursue legal action, both against the insurance company and the broker. His is not an isolated case. Brothers Leonard and Thaddeus Montoute have both been victims of the same broker. Thadeus says he found out only last week that something was amiss.
“I tried to call the broker but received no answer,” he said. He checked with his insurance company, only to discover his car insurance had not been paid since February, even though he had made payments to his broker. He is now out by over $4,000.
Unlike Elisee, Thaddeus does not have much of a paper trail. “I have dealt with this guy for years and never had any reason not to trust him,” he said. “I would sometimes just hand him cash and turn my back, not even collecting my receipt until later.”
Last Friday he visited the broker’s office on Mary-Ann Street in Castries. It was padlocked. On Wednesday, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority issued a related statement to the STAR. The letter bearing the name of the acting executive director, Nathalie Dusauzay, stated that the FSRA had cancelled the registration of S&A Insurance Brokers Ltd. effective September 2, 2014.
“Therefore S&A Insurance Brokers Ltd. can no longer carry on business as an insurance broker,” the letter said. Clients were advised to contact their insurers to confirm coverage. The FSRA notice came a full week after the broker’s licence had been revoked.
One S&A client who requested anonymity said that there seemed to be a fraternity of insurance companies and brokers that protected one another.
“For all we know this broker may already have skipped town,” he said. “What is there to stop him from leaving and never having to answer charges leveled at him?”
He further charged that as far back as May 2014 the Saint Lucia Insurance Council was aware of the issues with S&A but for reasons unknown chose not to alert clients.
George Elisee has the final word: “I think this is repulsive and someone needs to take some action and I can assure I will be one of them.”
Will his efforts to receive justice be thwarted by one of the aforementioned most loathed groups? Only time will tell.