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Legislature passes property insurance reforms to address hobbled system

Florida’s Legislature approved measures to cut down on lawsuits and shore up Citizen Property Insurance Corp.


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Florida legislators passed an insurance reform bill Wednesday that eliminates a controversial fee payment system for attorneys and speeds up the time insurers need to respond to claims, but, critics say, the changes do not do enough to lower rates for homeowners.

The reform legislation, written by State Sen. Jim Boyd. R-Bradenton, passed the Senate by a 27-13 vote on Tuesday and the House by a 84-33 vote on Wednesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it quickly.

This is the second time this year that the Legislature convened in a special session to address the state’s mounting property insurance woes that have put the system on the brink of collapse for what now seems like years.

The bill creates a $1 billion reinsurance plan to address potential shortages after a storm, requires insurers to move faster on claims, eliminates assignment of benefits and, in what may address the biggest problem facing the state’s insurance industry, does away with the one-way attorney fees.

According to the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, these changes remove the incentive for third parties to file claims, stabilize the existing insurance market and slow down the rapid growth at Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer of last resort.

But what’s passed has raised concerns that it might not bring enough immediate relief to those insured and closes avenues to pursue claims if there are problems.

On Twitter Tuesday, outgoing Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried blasted the bill and the Republican leadership that supported it on Twitter. “Property insurance too damn high? Fighting with your insurance company cause they denied your claim?” she wrote. “Don’t worry republicans have solutions for that…even higher premiums and strip away your right to sue.”

Supporters of the reform, however, say the legislation is aimed at helping consumers because cutting down on lawsuits and creating a better marketplace for insurers to operate in will increase the number of companies willing to do business in Florida.

“This is about consumer protection. This is about eliminating abusive lawsuits. This is about increasing opportunities in the market for more carriers to come down here and write policies, driving down costs for consumers,” Boyd said in a statement.

Party politics aside, Florida’s property insurance problems have long been blamed on a legal system that the industry, politicians on both sides of the aisles and observers say attorneys are allowed to run rampant because of the existing fee structure.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. R-Naples, said in a memo announcing the special session that 76% of homeowners’ lawsuits nationwide were filed in Florida despite the state only accounting for 6.91% of claims nationwide.

The high number of claims and associated lawsuits is seen as big part of the blame for insurance companies leaving the state and, in part, the high number of companies that have become insolvent. And when companies leave or raise their rates to be able to function, homeowners turn to Citizens for coverage. As of Nov. 30, Florida’s last hope insurer had 1.12 million policies in force, up from 741,420 on the same date last year and more than double the 532,788 it had in 2020.

Eliminating the one-way fee structures and the other measures, legislators believe, will help drop the number of lawsuits in the state and in turn make it more likely for insurance companies to do business in Florida, and in turn alleviate the pressure on Citizens by making the market place more competitive.

 

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Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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