An empty lot on Michigan Street in Long Beach on...

An empty lot on Michigan Street in Long Beach on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, where a home damaged by superstorm Sandy used to stand. Credit: Johnny Milano

All four U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey on Friday called for an inquiry into whether engineers for insurance companies routinely doctored reports to avoid paying claims to superstorm Sandy victims on Long Island and elsewhere.

The move by the four Democrats comes after a federal judge on Long Island issued a ruling saying it appears reports on storm-ravaged houses may have been regularly rewritten to erroneously blame damage on erosion rather than on flooding, allowing insurers to deny claims.

"I smell a rat in the way Sandy insurance claims are being handled, and we want FEMA to get to the bottom of this sewer," said Sen. Charles Schumer, who wrote a letter along with fellow New Yorker Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate.

While most flood insurance in the United States is funded by FEMA, the government hires private companies to administer the policies, process claims and, ultimately, determine settlements. Over the past year more than 1,000 homeowners from Long Island, Queens and Staten Island have filed lawsuits against those companies, saying they wrongly denied claims.

Schumer and Gillibrand -- along with New Jersey Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker -- asked FEMA to investigate how often engineers hired by those private insurers had their reports secretly rewritten.

"The recent findings . . . appear to be the 'smoking gun' of a pervasive and intentional effort to lowball disaster victims who did the right thing and paid their flood insurance for years if not decades," Menendez and Booker wrote in their letter to FEMA.

The ruling, issued by Magistrate Judge Gary Brown in Central Islip, hinged on a case in Long Beach where an engineer inspected a house several weeks after the 2012 storm and determined it was damaged by flooding.

But his report was secretly edited by a colleague, who never visited the property and blamed the damage on erosion. Consequently, the insurer refused to pay to fix the majority of structural damage to the house.

Brown's order sets a 30-day deadline for all insurance companies being sued in New York by Sandy victims to release copies of any notes, reports, pictures and other draft materials from engineering and adjusting reports.

Menendez and Booker have asked FEMA to force the companies being sued in New Jersey to be bound by the order, too.

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