60% Spike in Florida Home Insurance Rates Without Benefit-Assignment Reform

14 Feb
Spike in Florida homeowners insurance rates

Spike in Florida Homeowners Insurance Rates: According to data from the Department of Financial Services the number of AOB lawsuits in Florida has grown from just 405 in 2006 to more than 28,000 in 2016.

There is only a month left in Florida’s 2018 legislative session and there’s been little movement on legislation that will help solve the Assignment of Benefits (AOB) crisis that has been causing trouble for years in the Florida property insurance market.

While assignment of benefits have been around for a long time, in recent years, less than honest contractors and lawyers have taken advantage of AOB loopholes. An AOB allows a policyholder to sign over their contractual benefits to their contractor who will then deal directly with the insurance company to file a claim and request payment for the work they performed.

Unfortunately, less than honest contractors and water extraction companies have worked with specific law firms to file lawsuits for payment on inflated claims. According to data from the Department of Financial Services the number of AOB lawsuits in Florida has grown from just 405 in 2006 to more than 28,000 in 2016.

All of these lawsuits come at a price, according to industry experts rate hikes of 50% to 60% are expected in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Recent surveys done by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation highlights the scope of the problem. While AOB lawsuits were initially limited to South Florida the problem is spreading across the state. Surveys showed that insurance companies water claim losses are growing at a rate of roughly 42% per year.

Last year, 17% of water claims were the result of an AOB, which is an increase from 12.8% two years ago. According to the data, AOB claims tend to be at least 85% more severe than water claims that do not have an AOB attached.

What is Being Done?

While everyone agrees there is a problem there seems to be significant disagreement about how to handle it. The insurance industry would like Florida lawmakers to focus on the “one-way attorneys” fee” which they claim gives less than honest law firm’s incentive to file inflated claim lawsuits.

The law allows a plaintiff’s attorney to bill hours to the insurance company if the final settlement awarded in court is any amount more than the initial settlement amount offered by the insurance company. It is referred to as a “one way” because insurance companies are not allowed to collect attorney’s fees if they win the lawsuit. Basically, there is no real downside for a less than honest law firm to file a lawsuit.

While the Florida House passed legislation last year to repeal the “one-way attorneys’ fee” section of the law for law firms that represent AOB contactors, it failed in the Senate. A similar bill introduced this year will likely suffer the same fate.

The Senate has introduced a bill that would make modest changes to the AOB process. It would also limit insurance companies from factoring in the cost of attorneys fees in setting their rates and their rate filings with the state. This legislation has been strongly opposed by the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida as well as other insurance industry trade organizations.

The Florida House has introduced and passed legislation that would award attorney fees based on the difference between the initial offer made by the insurance company and the final judgment amount, effectively eliminating the “one way rule.” Depending on the difference, fees would be awarded to the insurer or the plaintiff, which would remove the incentive to file frivolous lawsuits.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little chance of the House and Senate coming to an agreement on a solution, which means that the problem could be kicked down the road for yet another year. Florida can ill afford another year of inaction, credit rating agencies have already notified a number of Florida insurance companies of a rating downgrade due to the AOB fraud crisis.

Consumers will also pay for legislator’s inaction. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation projects that homeowners will see premiums rise on average 29.5 percent over the next five years. The rate hikes will be much worse in certain areas. Miami-Dade, Broward, Clay, Duval, Orange and Seminole could all see rate hikes of 50 to 60 percent.

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