STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The New York State Department of Financial Services has hired the American Arbitration Association to host mediation sessions between insurance companies and storm victims -- and 841 Staten Islanders who still have open claims for damage to real or personal property qualify for the assistance.
"It's voluntary. It's non-binding, it's non-adversarial, unlike arbitration or litigation," Jeffrey T. Zaino, vice president of the association, said at a Borough Hall press conference Wednesday.
And it's free -- insurance companies will be footing the bill.
The mediation sessions are open to people whose claims for loss or damage to real or personal property were denied, in either part or in whole, or who haven't been offered a settlement within 45 days of submitting their documents. Flood insurance claims do not qualify.
Zaino said many of those more than 800 open claims will be resolved before going to mediation, but for others, it will be a good option. So far, just 15 Staten Islanders have registered for mediation, and the first one will be held tomorrow.
The two-hour process sees the insured and the insurance company sitting in a room with one of AAA's mediators -- all of whom will have more than five years' experience and 35 hours' training.
After a person accepts a settlement from her insurance company, she has three days to change her mind, Zaino said.
Citywide, there are about 15,000 claims still unsettled.
"We think mediation is the solution," Zaino said.
Borough President James Molinaro praised the program, saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others recognized insurance difficulties have been a prime concern since the storm.
"There was one complaint almost every family I spoke to gave me, and that was with the insurance companies," Molinaro said.
AAA needed a place to set up shop on Staten Island, so Molinaro reached out to Frank Siller of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to the Towers Foundation, who offered up space in their Hylan Boulevard office, where storm victims regularly visit for other types of help.
"So many people don't know the answers with their insurance companies, and I think Jeff is going to resolve that," Siller said.
To register for the program, visit adr.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 855-366-9767.
Applicants must complete a two-page form.
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