Citizens Property Insurance Corp Raises Rates

19 Dec

Citizens Property Insurance Florida

Citizens Property Insurance will be upping homeowner rates by an average of 8.2 percent for next year’s rates. This increase will affect home and condo owners as well as renters. The increase has been approved by the Board of Governors, which oversees rate increases for the state run insurer of last resort.

The ongoing issue with assignment of benefits  (AOB) litigation is being blamed for the most recent increase.  “Unfortunately, our customers are paying the price for these exaggerated losses,” said Gary Aubuchon, interim chairman of Citizens Board of Governors in a recent Insurance Journal article. “The unnecessary increase in litigation continues to take a toll.”

This will be the third consecutive increase by the insurer since 2016. Citizens Property puts the blame squarely on the assignment of benefits issue which involves claim abuse with non- weather related water losses such as broken pipes, leaking washing machines and other water damage claims that are not related to storm damage. Check out this article for an overview of the AOB problems in Florida.

Citizens Property has been struggling with AOB abuse since 2013. This involves less than honest contractors convincing a homeowner to sign an AOB form which turns over the insurance benefits to the contractor, who works with specific law firms to submit inflated work claims to the insurer. When the claim is denied or questioned, the law firm steps in and sues. Because it is cheaper to settle than go to court, Citizens Property ends up paying the inflated claim.

This practice has grown over the last few years as shady contractors and lawyers have found it to be a profitable venture. Citizens Property has received 2,617 AOB-related lawsuits through September of this year which is up from 860 in 2013. Citizens is currently on track to surpass a 2016 peak of 3,242 lawsuits. All of these losses have forced the company to dip into their surplus for the last four years and this trend will continue in 2019 according to company projections.

The insurer clearly blames the cost of litigation for the higher rates. Florida has a one-way attorney fee law, which requires Citizens to cover attorney’s fees when they settle.  “Originally created to protect homeowners in legal matters against their insurers, Florida’s well-intentioned one-way attorney fee statute has been expanded by the courts to produce an uneven playing field in disputes between insurance companies and other businesses,” Citizens said in a recent statement.

Despite the fact that Citizens has shed more than 56 percent of their policies since 2013, the number of lawsuits they face each year has grown. The number of lawsuits filed against Citizens has gone from 9,146 in 2013 to 10,357 for the first nine months of 2018.

The numbers are just as bad for insurers in the private market. Private insurance companies have seen litigation jump up to 53,160 cases, which is nearly triple during that same time period.

According to Citizens data, if the litigation rates would return to pre-2013 levels, almost all of Citizens policyholders would be seeing a rate decrease.

The latest rate increase will hit 97 percent of homeowners that are carrying  multiperil policies. Citizens has made efforts to help slow the AOB abuse. They recently introduced their Managed Repair Program which caps non-storm related water damage claims if homeowners choose to not use one of Citizens approved contractors.

The new rates will be effective for new and renewing policy starting on September 1, 2019.

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