March 2023

By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer.

More than 18 months after he pleaded guilty to absconding with almost $5 million in premiums, a Florida insurance agent has been sentenced to 14 years in prison.

John M. Thomas, 52, the former owner of Thomas Insurance agency in Pensacola, also must pay more than $8 million in restitution, a federal judge decided this week.

“This sentence should serve as a significant deterrent to those who would defraud our citizens, in this case depriving them of critical insurance coverage, simply to unlawfully enrich themselves,” U.S. Attorney Jason Coody said in a statement.

For more than seven years, Thomas collected premium payments from at least 67 clients, then produced fraudulent policy documents and certificates purporting to show that clients were covered. Thomas used the money for personal gain, including an African safari, a Utah ski resort condominium, a Florida beach condo, a Lexus automobile and restorations to a 45-year-old Jeep vehicle, according to his 2021 indictment.

The independent agency sold homeowners, commercial property, commercial liability, auto, workers’ compensation and other lines of insurance to some well-known commercial interests in Florida and Alabama before the fraud was discovered, attorneys said.

“It appears that he was well connected with the country club set, some of whom he was taking money from,” said Craig Rettig in 2021.

Rettig is a Pensacola plaintiffs’ attorney who filed suit against Thomas on behalf of some commercial property owners who said they were defrauded. “You don’t see many insurance agents with resort condominiums and luxury cars and restored Jeeps like that.”

By failing to secure actual insurance policies, some clients lost more than $2 million in unpaid hurricane, fire and liability claims, federal prosecutors said.

After the allegations came to light in 2021, more than 15 former clients filed complaints or lawsuits against Thomas. Pensacola Beach Properties Inc. suffered damage to multiple buildings when Hurricane Sally hit the Pensacola area.

“When plaintiff began making contact with the insurance companies believed to have been providing coverage, she was informed that defendant had failed to forward payment to the insurance companies,” the lawsuit complaint noted.

That suit explained that questions also arose when a major apartment complex in Mobile, Alabama, was damaged in a fire in May 2020. The Texas-based owners contacted the insurance carrier, only to be told that Thomas had never taken out a policy on the apartments.

Thomas said there was a “mix-up” and paid $500,000 from a personal account as a downpayment on the claim, Rettig said. A second check from Thomas’ bank account bounced, and that’s when the property owners decided to take legal action.

In another suit, a New York couple that owned a home near the beach charged that their house sustained wind and flood damage in the storm. Thomas told them he had filed the wind claim and promised to send the couple the documentation and policy. He never did, the complaint notes.

Thomas was arrested then unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in August of 2021. His sentencing was set for later that year. Prosecutors did not say why the sentencing had to wait for another 18 months, but court records suggest that Thomas’ pro se filings with the court may have delayed the proceedings.

In August 2022, while incarcerated, he hand-wrote a motion asking to terminate his attorney from the case. “Defendants retained counsel has consistency (sic) demonstrated material neglect with regard to … communicating with the defendant” and providing sound legal advice, the motion reads.

It’s unclear if the motions helped or hurt Thomas’ sentencing, but the length of the prison time and amount of restitution is near the maximum recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.

“Today’s sentencing should serve as a warning to anyone who uses illegal means and criminal behavior to take advantage of others,” said Sherri Onks, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Division. “The victims in this case suffered significant loss and pain as a result of this deception, never knowing they were without insurance coverage until disaster struck.”

The prosecution resulted from a joint investigation by the FBI and the Florida Department of Financial Services’ fraud bureau, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers recommended that Thomas serve his time in federal prison in Tucson, Arizona or San Diego. After prison, he’ll face three years of supervised release.



By William Rabb

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer.

The Florida Senate is set to approve a take-no-prisoners tort-reform bill today and it could be signed into law as soon as Friday.

The bill, which extends limits on one-way attorney fees, assignments of benefits, and other provisions to most types of insurance claims, would take effect as soon as the ink is dry on the governor’s signature.

And that won’t be a minute too soon, as plaintiffs lawyers have moved to file tens of thousands of claims lawsuits before the new restrictions kick in, insurance industry advocates said Thursday.

An email from Cole, Scott & Kissane, one of Florida’s largest insurance defense law firms, was sent to the firm’s lawyers and has been forwarded around the state. It relates a phone conversation with Matt Morgan, partner with Morgan & Morgan, one of the country’s largest plaintiffs’ firms. Morgan said that the Orlando-based firm will have filed 25,000 insurance-claim cases by this week.

“The defendants won’t initially be served but the carriers will be sent a letter demanding the policy limits,” reads the email from Richard Cole, managing partner with Cole, Scott & Kissane.

Insurance carriers will have five days to respond. If the policy limits are not tendered, full litigation will follow, Morgan said.

“The call was cordial but direct,” Cole noted in the email. “Feel free to let your client carriers know of Morgan and Morgan’s position and plans.”

John Morgan (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

John Morgan, head of the firm, said Thursday in a statement to Insurance Journal: “At this moment we are doing what all lawyers should be doing – protecting the interests of our clients.”

He added: “There is no insurance crisis in Florida. Rates won’t go down. They never have and never will. All tort reform this year should be titled ‘F*** the People.’”

Cole, reached by phone Thursday, said other plaintiffs’ firms will likely take similar actions and the state could see as many as 100,000 suits filed by today.

Insurance groups agreed, noting that the flood of litigation gives urgency to the governor to sign House Bill 837 as soon as possible.

“I expect to see a tidal wave of suits filed by today, frankly,” said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, which includes some of the largest property insurers in the state. “The trial bar knows that the governor could sign the bill by today, so they’re trying to get these in before then.”

He noted that an excessive number of lawsuits is exactly what HB 837 is designed to prevent going forward. Until the law has an impact, though, insurance carriers and county clerks of court will likely be swamped with work, Carlson and Cole predicted.

“It will put a lot of stress on the whole system,” Cole said.

“Giving five days to respond, and no settlement for less than the policy limits – that’s just ridiculous,” Carlson added.

Others in the industry joined in the criticism of the claimants’ lawyers’ legal efforts.

“This is the exact reason the state of Florida needs this tort reform bill. These opportunistic lawyers are acting in bad faith by sprinting to file 25,000 cases ahead of the law’s passage,” Neil Alldredge, president and CEOof the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said in an email. “This last-ditch stunt is yet another example of how legal system abuse has added to the challenges of providing insurance coverage in the state and increased costs for consumers.”

HB 837 passed the full House last week and was set for a third reading in the Senate Thursday afternoon. It has survived largely intact since it was introduced by Sen. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Branch.

Democratic senators on Wednesday attempted a last-minute rewrite to soften the impact on policyholders and their attorneys. That amendment failed to pass on the Senate floor.

An explanation of the bill’s provisions can be seen here.


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Two men were found dead after a boating incident on a central Florida lake near the Legoland theme park.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference that the two men had jumped into Lake Eloise Saturday to save a third person from their group, a woman, who was struggling in the water. The men became separated from the boat and were not seen since Saturday evening.

The bodies of Orlando Ortiz, 30, of Winter Haven, and Jeffrey Marrero, 34, of Auburndale, were found in the lake about 150 yards apart, according to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office news release.

The third person, 38-year-old Velcky Velazques, was rescued by sheriff’s deputies who had been summoned when a 10-year-old girl on the boat dialed 911 on a cellphone. That child and an 8-year-old girl remained on the boat as it drifted and were rescued safely by the deputies, who had commandeered a fishing boat whose owner cooperated in the effort, Judd said.

The lake, adjacent to Legoland in Winter Haven, was rough on Saturday with 20 mph (32 kph) winds and some whitecaps, Judd said. He added that the weather issues were compounded by inexperience on the part of the boaters, who had rented the vessel for an outing that day.

The problems began when the Velazques jumped into the water with an anchor, the sheriff said.

“She’s just very inexperienced, so she thinks you’re supposed to get into the water, put the anchor in and then tie it to the boat,” Judd said.

The missing men were identified as Orlando Ortiz, 32, who is Velazques’s boyfriend, and Jeffrey Marrero, 34, who is the father of the two girls. Judd said the search will continue using sonar and underwater drones until they are found.

Sponsored by Beacon Hill & Associates, Inc.

“We don’t allow anyone’s loved one to stay in the lake. We will find them,” Judd said.

Winter Haven is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Tampa.

Legoland put out a statement Saturday saying the incident “is not connected with us in any way.” It added that a boardwalk at its hotel was being used by officials as a command center.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” the statement said.

Photo: Authorities search for the missing boaters in Lake Eloise. (Polk County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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By Staff and Wire Reports 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ already strong stamp on the Florida Supreme Court will be even greater for years to come after Justice Ricky Polston retires at the end of this month.

DeSantis will have appointed five of the court’s seven justices when he replaces Polston, who sent DeSantis a three-sentence letter Monday announcing his resignation. He didn’t give a reason for his decision.

Polston, 67, has been one of the court’s most conservative justices since being appointed by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008. Crist has since become a Democrat, and was criticized by other Democrats while while running for governor last year for appointing Polston to the court.

Justice Polston

Polston has been instrumental in a number of recent Supreme Court decisions that have affected property and liability insurance issues, directly and indirectly. In January, he wrote the majority opinion in Coates vs. R.J. Reynolds, which upheld the slashing of punitive damages against the tobacco company. Polston also penned a 2022 opinion that found that an arbitration clause is binding and that an arbitrator, not a court, can decide when a claim should be handled outside of a court.

He also dissented in a controversial decision that found that insurers’ payments to expert witnesses should be discoverable by plaintiffs. Polston argued that plaintiffs’ lawyers should also be required to reveal their financial relationships with treating doctors — something the Florida Legislature is now considering.

Having five appointees on the court will be a critical fact as DeSantis faces court challenges to a number of laws enacted by his administration, including new abortion restrictions and restrictions on how race and gender issues can be taught in schools.

This year the Legislature is expected to pass bills banning abortions after six weeks, expanding gun rights and restricting the use of pronouns in schools if they differ from the gender a person was assigned at birth. Those and other bills could spur more legal challenges.

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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By William Rabb 

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis raised some questions Friday when he suggested that Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-created insurer, has “not been solvent” and may be unable to pay all claims from a major hurricane.

The head-scratching comments came just hours before the Citizens board of governors voted to spend more than $170 million over the next three years on $500 million in reinsurance bonds – over the objections of the board’s chairman.

DeSantis made his statement at a news conference in Fort Myers, a city that took the brunt of Hurricane Ian last September, and where many homeowners are now complaining that they’ve received little or no payouts on their insurance claims.

A news reporter asked DeSantis if he would consider changing Citizens’ eligibility requirements for homeowners. Some residents have said they can’t be fully covered by Citizens because the corporation limits coverage to $700,000 per home in most parts of the state. Others said they can’t be accepted by Citizens until their Hurricane Ian damage is repaired, but repairs have been delayed while claims with their existing carrier have been delayed or unpaid.

“Maybe, yeah, I’d be willing to look at that for sure,” DeSantis said, according to The Florida Channel and WZVN TV 7 news in Naples. “I think most people know Citizens has not been solvent. If you did have a major hurricane hit with a lot of Citizens property holders, it would not have a lot to pay out.”

Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, did not explain what DeSantis may have meant. He referred the Insurance Journal to a December news conference held when DeSantis signed Senate Bill 2A.

Citizens’ board members also could not be reached for comment.

Citizens, by statute, cannot become insolvent. State law allows the company to levy a surcharge on Citizens’ policyholders and then on all carriers’ policyholders if its reserves and reinsurance layers fall short of losses in a catastrophic hurricane season. DeSantis acknowledged that assessment mechanism at the news conference.

“The governor is correct in that if Citizens exhausts its surplus and has a deficit, we are required to levy assessments on our policyholders and most other Florida insurance consumers,” said Citizens’ Media Relations Manager Michael Peltier.

It’s no secret that Citizens’ rates are not considered actuarially sound and are below market levels in many parts of the state, thanks to the insurer’s statutory glidepath that limits annual increases. But Citizens is far from becoming insolvent, insurance industry leaders and Citizens’ financial documents indicate.

Citizens’ 2023 budget indicates it will have some $407 million in net income this year. Its latest quarterly statement shows assets for the third quarter of 2022 were no less than its liabilities.

Board members, industry executives and lawmakers have expressed concern that Citizens’ explosive growth in recent years will lead to an assessment on policyholders if the state is hit with two or more major hurricanes, and the insurer has launched a depopulation program designed to reduce its exposure.

But no one has suggested that the corporation, created by the Legislature in 2002 as an insurer of last resort, is nearing insolvency.

At the Citizens’ board of governors’ meeting Friday afternoon, no one mentioned DeSantis’ comments. But the board voted to approve a staff recommendation that the corporation secure an extra $500 million in reinsurance protection. That would help the insurer avoid an assessment on policyholders, staff members said.


Chairman Carlos Beruff argued strongly against the catastrophe bond package from Lightning Re Ltd., an entity created by Citizens to secure investors and provide the coverage. Although Citizens’ staff and advisors had developed the plan and negotiated with investors in a tough market for months, Beruff said it would cost too much: $61 million for the first year and $55 million per year for the next two years in fees and interest payments.

The bond would attach at $51.5 billion in aggregate industry losses and would be exhausted at $66 billion in losses.

“The decision for me is quite simple,” said Beruff, a Bradenton real estate developer and homebuilder. “For us to recoup 100 cents on the dollar, the state would have be whacked to the tune of $66 billion across the industry, which puts us in a whole different world.”

Citizens would have a better chance of recouping its expenses by buying $61 million worth of lottery tickets, he quipped.

Beruff argued that if storms create such heavy losses in one year, Florida’s economy would be wrecked. Property owners would not be able to rebuild anytime soon, thanks in part to what would become an overwhelmed supply chain. A layer of reinsurance would be the least of Floridians’ problems at that point, he said. He urged the board to consider alternatives to the bond, including more traditional reinsurance purchases.

To help put the loss amount in perspective, $66 billion is not off the charts. Hurricane Ian’s insured losses, including flood damage, have been clocked at more than $60 billion by some estimates.


Citizens’ chief financial officer, Jennifer Montero, and Citizens’ Raymond James advisor said the cat bond program would not be available again at the negotiated rates, at a time of soaring reinsurance prices and Florida-skiddish investors. Without it, Montero said, Citizens would move a step closer to needing an assessment charge on policyholders if massive losses do occur.

At the end of the emergency board meeting Friday, Citizens governors voted 5-2 to endorse the Lightning Re bond plan.

Top photo: DeSantis as a September news conference on Hurricane Ian. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)


by Tim Meenan, Lobbyist

Session Dispatch – Week 1 and 2by Tim Meenan,Lobbyist.
­The Florida Legislature convened its work on March 7 and will end on May 5, 2023. Governor DeSantis priority issues are dominating the session and getting off to a fast start, including tort reform, consumer data privacy, and banning state investment funds from investing in ESG funds. With two weeks down, there are seven weeks remaining in session.

Please call  Lee from  USAsurance Powered by WeInsure. 954-270-7966 or 833-USAssure at the office. My email is . I am Your Insurance Consultant  about Home Insurance, Auto, Flood, Private Flood, Car, Life Insurance, Mortgage protection, Financial Products, Business  & Commercial Policies, & Group Products for business owners to give Employees benefits at no cost to the employer.


1.     Condominium and Cooperative Associations – HB 1395/SB 154

By Rep. Lopez and Senator Bradley

This is a cleanup package for the Surfside bill that passed in special session last May. The Senate bill has only one committee stop and is on agenda in the Fiscal Policy committee on March 16.  The House bill has not yet been heard.

SB 154 revises the milestone inspection requirements for condominium and cooperative buildings that are three or more stories in height to:

·        Limit the milestone inspection requirements to buildings that include a residential condominium or cooperative;

·        Provide that the milestone inspection requirements apply to buildings that in whole or in part are subject to the condominium or cooperative forms of ownership, such as mixed-use buildings;

·        Clarify that all owners of a mixed-use building in which portions of the building are subject to the condominium or cooperative form of ownership are responsible for ensuring compliance and must share the costs of the inspection;

·        Delete the 25-year milestone inspection requirements for buildings that are within three miles of the coastline;

·        Authorize the local enforcement agencies that are responsible with enforcing the milestone inspection requirements the option to set a 25-year inspection requirement if justified by local environmental conditions, including proximity to seawater;

·        Authorize the local enforcement agency to extend the inspection deadline for a building upon a petition showing good cause that the owner or owners of the building have entered a contract with an architect or engineer to perform the milestone inspection services and the milestone inspection cannot reasonably be completed before the deadline;

·        Provide that the inspection services may be provided by a team of design professionals with an architect or engineer acting as a registered design professional in responsible charge; and

·        Clarify that an association must distribute a copy of the summary of the inspection reports to unit owners within 30 days of its receipt.

Requires the Florida Building Commission to establish by rule a building safety program to implement the milestone inspection requirements within the Florida Building Code. The commission must specify the minimum requirements for the commission’s building safety program by December 31, 2024, including inspection criteria, testing protocols, standardized inspection and reporting forms that are adaptable to an electronic format, and record maintenance requirements for the local authority having jurisdiction.

Revises the requirement that all personal lines residential policies issued by the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation must include flood coverage to exempt condominium or cooperative units that are in certain flood-risk areas and above specified floors in a building.

Clarifies that both the condominium or cooperative unit owner and any person authorized by any owner as his or her representative may inspect the official records of the association.

The bill provides additional presale notice requirements in contracts for sales of a unit by a developer or non developer. This provision is similar to current contract notices to unit owners obligated to furnish certain governing documents to the prospective buyer of a unit more than three days before closing for sales by a non developer or 15 days before closing for sales by a developer. A contract that does not conform to these notice requirements is voidable at the option of the purchaser prior to closing.

2.     Collateral Protection Insurance on Real Property HB 793/SB 410

By Rep. Fernandez-Barquin and Sen. Garcia (I)

This is the first time this type of language has been introduced in Florida. The House and Senate bills have received three committees of reference. HB 793 is on the agenda in the Insurance & Banking subcommittee on March 14. SB 410 has not yet been heard.

The bill creates a new section of law dealing with real property collateral protection insurance, also known as “forced-placed” insurance. The bill seeks to promote the public welfare by regulating collateral protection insurance on real property, create a legal framework which collateral protection insurance on real property may be written in the state, help maintain the separation between mortgage lenders or servicers, and insurers or insurance agents, and minimize the possibilities of unfair competitive practices in the sale, placement, solicitation, and negotiation of collateral protection insurance.

The scope of the bill applies to insurers and insurance agents engaged in any transaction involving collateral protection insurance on real property and all collateral protection insurance written in connection with mortgaged real property, including manufactured and mobile homes.

3.     Insurance HB 505/SB 418

By Rep. Berfeild and Sen. Perry

This bill has turned into the Insurance Omnibus bill for the 2023 Legislative Session. As usual for every session the House and Senate versions will move through the process picking up smaller industry specific language and turning the bill into a train. The Senate bill is ahead of the House version and has the following provisions:

·        Allows a residential property insurer’s rate filing to estimate projected hurricane losses by using a weighted or straight average of two or more models approved by the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology.

·        Provides that, in lieu of themselves, the Executive Director of the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, and the Director of the Division of Emergency Management, respectively, may appoint a designee to be a member of the Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology.

·        Authorizes an insurer to file a personal lines residential property insurance rating plan that provides premium discounts, credits, and other rate differentials based on windstorm construction standards developed by an independent, not-for-profit, scientific research organization.

·        Limits the requirement that an insurer provide a policyholder who has an automatic bank withdrawal agreement with the insurer with 15 days advance written notice of any increase in policy premiums. Instead, notice will only be required for premium increases that result in an increase in the automatic withdrawal of more than $10 from the previous withdrawal amount.

·        Revises provisions regarding the delivery of a policy to a policyholder by expanding the type of policies authorized to be delivered by electronic transmission to include individual and group health insurance policies, including dental.

·        Revises the mandated deductibles that must be offered for hurricane loss when issuing a personal lines residential property insurance policy. For policies with a dwelling limit of at least $1 million, the bill no longer requires the offer of the current mandated deductibles of 2 percent, 5 percent, and ten percent of the dwelling limit. Instead, the bill provides that an insurer may offer deductibles of up to:

*Ten percent, for a policy covering a risk with dwelling limits of at least $1 million, but less than $3 million;

*Fifteen percent, for a policy covering a risk with dwelling limits greater than $3 million.

·        Revises the requirement that the waiver by a policyholder of windstorm coverage or contents coverage, must be in the policy holder’s own handwriting, by also allowing the waiver to be typed.

·        Eliminates the requirement that a notice be stamped on the declarations page of limited coverage automobile policies. Such policies generally cover antique motor vehicles.

4.     Hurricane Protection for Condominium Association HB 395/SB 556

By Rep. Tuck and Sen. Hooper

Both House and Senate bills have received three committee references. The bill should move through the process but opposition from condo members may create some problems. 

Adds in the definition section of condominium a term “hurricane protection” which covers hurricane shutters, impact glass, code-compliant windows or doors and other code-compliant hurricane protection products in order to potentially earn insurance mitigation credits. 

The bill allows for condominium associations to let members vote and by a simple majority require unit owners to install hurricane protection that complies with or exceeds the applicable building code. 

5.     Residential Property Insurance Rates HB 799/SB 594 (Mitigation Credits)

By Rep. Griffitts and Sen. Martin

The House and Senate bills have received three committee references and should move through the process minus any objections from the engineers regarding vagueness of the term. 

The bill adds “wind uplift prevention” to a list of techniques that can be used to reduce property loss and potentially receive a discount, credit or other rate differentials on property insurance. 

HB 799 has passed its first of three committees, while SB 594 is on the agenda in the Banking & Insurance committee on March 15.

6.     Flood Zone Disclosures for Dwelling Units HB 1291/SB 716

By Rep. Antone and Sen. Stewart

Both the House and Senate versions have received three committees of reference, however the fact that this policy was filed by democrat members probably means it will not move. Neither of these bills has been heard in committee.

Requires landlords or persons authorized to enter into rental agreements on behalf of landlords to make specified disclosures relating to flood zones before the commencement of a tenancy and reinform tenant if the flood zone changes. 

7.      Flood Damage Prevention HB 859/SB 1018 (Mitigation Credits)

By Rep. Basabe and Sen. Trumbull

The bill has three references in the House and Senate. SB 1018 is on the Senate Community Affairs committee agenda on March 15. The House bill has not yet been heard.   

The bill creates the “Flood Damage Prevention Act of 2023.” The bill seeks to allow the Florida Building Commission to develop certain mitigation strategies in rule to mitigate property damage and encourage continued investment in Florida. 

8.     Resolution of Disputed Property Insurance Claims HB 1141/SB 1174

By Rep. Gottlieb and Sen. Polsky

The bills received three references each in the House and Senate. The bills have not been heard and with the current climate in both House and Senate, I would expect this bill not to pass.

The bill creates mandatory mediation for resolution of disputed property insurance claims. If agreed to by both parties, it allows for mediation to be conducted via telephone. Once mediation is invoked, the policyholder must, within 10 days, provide to the insurer any and all supporting documents and information that serve as the basis for the claim. 



1.     Motor Vehicle Liability Policies – HB 57/SB 516 for Risk Retention Groups


The House version only received two committee stops and cleared House Insurance and Banking 15-0 and goes next to the Commerce committee. The Senate version was referred to three committees and was supposed to be on the Banking & Insurance committee agenda on March 16 but was postponed. 

The bill permits the owner or operator of a motor vehicle to provide proof of financial responsibility by obtaining an insurance policy from a risk retention group that: 1) has an “A” or higher rating for financial strength, and “VIII” or higher for financial size by the A.M. Best Company, and 2) only provides commercial coverage to its members and shareholders. The bill would permit an RRG to directly provide commercial auto insurance at a lower price to its Florida members.

2.     Motor Vehicle Insurance and Driver Licenses for Foster Youth SB 168

By Sen. Garcia (I)

The Senate version is moving quickly through the process and only has two committees to go. A House bill has not been filed. The only hold-up may be the fiscal impact associated with the expansion of the program. 

Expands the Keys program by removing language in statute that restricts one of the eligibility paths to receive Keys support. Currently, youth and young adults who achieve eligibility for the Keys program via enrollment in postsecondary educational services and supports (PESS) must also have been in licensed care when he or she reached 18 years of age. The bill expands eligibility for the Keys program by removing the requirement for young adults who are eligible by enrollment in PESS to also have been in licensed care when turning 18 years of age.

The Keys to Independence program (Keys program) is a state-funded normalcy support program designed to remove barriers to obtaining a driver license for foster and former foster youth. The program removes barriers to obtaining a driver license by young adults by paying, subject to available funding, the cost of driver education, licensure, other costs incidental to licensure, and motor vehicle insurance for certain populations. The change will allow approximately an additional 450 young adults to be eligible to participate in the Keys program.

3.     Electronic Motor Vehicle Registration Certificates SB 370

By Sen. Brodeur

The Senate version has moved through its first of three committee stops. A House version has yet to be filed. 

Authorizes acceptance of an electronic certificate of motor vehicle registration as documentation required to be in the possession of a motor vehicle’s operator or carried in the vehicle while the vehicle is being operated on the roads of this state. The bill provides that displaying an electronic registration certificate does not constitute consent for an officer or agent to access any other information on the electronic device, and the person who presents the device assumes liability for any resulting damage to the device.

4.     Motor Vehicle Insurance HB 429/SB 586

By Rep. Alvarez and Sen. Grall

This is the PIP repeal bill for the 2023 Legislative Session. It has been filed by members of the legislature who are plaintiffs’ attorneys. The bill repeals Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law and replaces it with a bodily injury liability system. In talks with leadership in the House, they have told us that PIP repeal is off the table or this session. 

5.     Commercial Vehicle Insurance SB 434

By Sen. Wright

The Senate bill has received three committees of reference and no House bill has been filed. 

The bill increases the liability coverage from $350,000 per occurrence to $700,000 per occurrence for commercial motor vehicles with a gross weight over 44,000 pounds. 

6.     Towing Vehicles SB 438

By Sen. Rodriguez

The Senate bill has received three references and a House bill has yet to be filed.

This bill seeks to make tow operators whole when towing vehicles from a scene to an investigating agency’s storage facility by mandating that the agency collects the towing and storage cost from the owner of the vehicle before the agency releases the vehicle and if they fail to do so the agency must pay that amount to the tow operator within 5 days. 

7.     Post-lost Benefit Assignments Under Motor Vehicle Insurance Policies HB 541

By Rep. Griffitts

This tort bill has received three committee references in the House and its Senate companion has yet to be filed. A proposed committee substitute for HB 541 was adopted in the Insurance & Banking and the bill passed on March 14.

This bill eliminates auto “assignment agreements” for any policy issued after July 1, 2023. This is another anti-trial bar bill designed to stop excessive litigation on auto insurance policies. 


1.     Department of Financial Services HB 487/SB 1158

By Rep. Salzman and Sen. DiCeglie

This is an omnibus department package and includes the following:

·        Workers compensation – changes jurisdiction of the three-member panel and reimbursement schedule;

·        Guaranty funds: Makes changes to the board composition of FSIGA, FIGA, FLAHIGA and Medical Malpractice JUA. Allows CFO to remove a director for malfeasance.

·        Changes fingerprint requirements for agent licensing exam centers;

·        Exempts title, life insurance and annuity contracts from agency closure notification provisions.

·        Agent examination is not required for Professional in Claims (PIC) from 2021 Training, LLC;

·        Specifies elective continuing education courses for public adjusters may must be any course related to commercial and residential property coverages, claim adjusting practices, and any other adjuster elective courses;

·        Strikes prohibitions on agents holding limited lines licenses for credit insurance for sales of motor vehicle physical damage and physical breakdown insurance, and combinations of other lines as well;

·        Contains various public adjuster licensing updates;

·        Revokes health insurance Navigator licenses where they fail to maintain a valid federal navigator registration;

·        For property, casualty, except mortgage guaranty, surety, or marine insurance, other than motor vehicle insurance subject to s. 627.728 or s. 627.7281, reduces the period from 90 days to 60 days when such cancellation or termination occurs during the first 60 days during which the insurance is in force and the insurance is canceled or terminated for reasons other than nonpayment of premium, then at least 20 days’ written notice of cancellation or termination must be given accompanied by the reason why;

·        Corrects a glitch for HB701 (2021 session) for Behavioral Health notification and disclosure requirements;

·        Prohibits a liability insurer is prohibited from denying coverage for property and bodily injury liability claims made against an insured for up to the property and bodily injury liability limits set in s. 324.021(9) solely based on the insured’s failure to cooperate with the insurer’s investigation — unless the insurer can clearly demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the insured’s lack of cooperation has resulted in actual prejudice to the insurer;

·        Alternative Dispute Resolution: Would require an insurer is to make a claim determination or elect to repair pursuant to s. 627.70131 before participating in mediation.

·        Imposes new restrictions against Collateral Protection insurance on a mortgaged property;

·        Mediation of Claims: Increases the jurisdictional amount from $10,000 per claim to $50,000 per claim for personal injury or property damage claims related to a motor vehicle; insurers must bear all costs of the mediation, which must be reasonable; allows DFS to adopt rules for the program;

·        FIGA: allows sharing of the insolvent insurers records with the prospective solvent assuming insurer for purposes of due diligence and allows transfer of the insolvent insurers book of business and policies; allows adjustment of cancellation date of policies by the receiver;

·        Establishes a Direct Support Organization for the State Fire Marshal;

·        Service Warranties: allows DFS to issue salesperson license for motor vehicle service agreement companies and insurers to nonresident applicant where there is reciprocity with the applicant’s home state; licensees charged with a felony may be immediately suspended; licenses must report actions against their license within 30 days of final administrative action;

·        Bail bonds: revises agency licensing requirements.

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A Florida bill that would clamp further limits on attorney fees and litigation passed another Senate committee Thursday, moving it closer to a Senate floor vote.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, differs slightly from a House version, HB 837, and the two would have to be reconciled before passing the Legislature. The Senate version, approved by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday by a vote of 13-6, now contains an exception to the ban on one-way attorney fees in some circumstances.

SB 236 has passed three committees by large margins. It would allow one-way fees, which have been called the chief culprit for Florida’s overheated insurance claims litigation scene, when insureds seek a declaratory judgment after an insurer denies a claim, such as in life insurance claims by beneficiaries. That has raised concerns in the insurance industry that it would give plaintiffs’ attorneys an opening that could be exploited to generate fees that would have to be paid by insurers.

A trial attorney said those concerns are overblown and the fees would be requested in relatively few cases.

In the House, HB 837 has also passed committees and is ready for a third reading by the full House chamber. That bill would allow one-way fees for declaratory judgment actions only in cases of “total coverage denial.”


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Florida Lobbying Firm Hires Altmaier as Lobbyist and Consultant

March 16, 2023

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Former Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has been hired as a lobbyist and consultant by one of the largest and most influential lobbying firms in the state, The Southern Group, the company announced.

The Southern Group, which in 2022 became the top-earning lobbying firm in Florida, with more than $6.7 million in compensation, announced this week that it had named Altmaier head of a new, national insurance advisory practice for the firm.

Florida statutes bar agency heads from lobbying their former agencies, but not from lobbying legislators. The Southern Group’s chair and founder, Paul Bradshaw, told Florida Politics that the former commissioner will be “an extraordinarily effective advocate” at a time that insurance companies need those skills the most.

“In his capacity as commissioner, he led the Office of Insurance Regulation and had oversight over one of the largest insurance markets in the world,” The Southern Group noted on its website. “Under David’s leadership, Florida passed a sweeping reform bill aimed at stabilizing the insurance market.”

Altmaier joined the OIR in 2008 and was named commissioner in 2016. He stepped down in December 2022, just before a six-year ban on lobbying took effect. Last month, Aspen Insurance Group named him to its board of directors.

The firms did not reveal Altmaier’s new pay structure. The Southern Group has offices around Florida and in the capital cities of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly suggested that agency heads are barred from all types of lobbying, not just lobbying their former agencies.


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By William Rabb 

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Amendment to Florida Tort-Reform Would Grant One-Way Attorney Fees in Some Cases

By William Rabb | March 15, 2023

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A sponsor of a far-reaching Florida tort-reform bill warned last week that the measure, unlike previously adopted insurance legislation, is subject to change as it moves through the House and the Senate.

On Tuesday, that proved true as the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed a new version of Senate Bill 236, a version that insurance interests said could chip away at a recent ban on one-way attorney fees.

“It’s evident that this bill has gotten better,” said state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, as he concluded the committee’s hearing on the bill Tuesday evening. “A lot of work has been done and we’re still trying to figure out the best way forward on some things.”

SB 236 is the Senate version of House Bill 837, a sweeping measure that would extend the ban on one-way attorney fees, enacted for property insurance claims disputes by SB 2A in December, to auto and liability insurance. One-way fees, often granted to plaintiffs when they prevail in court, have been called the linchpin of the insurance crisis in Florida and a big incentive for unnecessary claims litigation.

Hutson’s amendment would allow one-way fees in one circumstance: when an insured asks a court for a declaratory judgment after a claim has been wrongfully denied.

“The court shall award reasonable attorney fees to the named insured, omnibus insured, or named beneficiary under a policy issued by the insurer, upon rendition of a declaratory judgment in favor of the named insured, omnibus insured, or named beneficiary,” the amendment reads.


The thinking, according to those familiar with the sausage-making on the bill, is that in some cases, such as those involving life insurance, a declaratory judgment may be needed for beneficiaries to obtain benefits when insurers have wrongly denied claims. Without awarded fees, plaintiffs’ lawyers may have little interest in making the effort.

But some insurance industry advocates are now warning that the language could allow plaintiffs’ attorneys to seek declaratory judgments in other types of insurance claims disputes, simply to gain fees. That could create another “mole” in what insurers have called a game of “whack-a-mole” after attorneys through the years have found ways to exploit legislative limits on claims and claims litigation, critics said.

A Tampa attorney who represents insureds said those concerns are overblown.

“This is for a very discreet set of facts,” said attorney Lee Gunn, who spoke at the committee meeting. He added that a little old lady who is wrongly denied life insurance benefits should not have to spend her own money to hire a lawyer if the insurer is at fault.

“This would encourage good claims behavior by the insurer,” Gunn said.

Hutson’s amendment did not receive much debate in Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing before the committee approved the amended bill by a vote of 8-4. In the House, a proposed amendment to HB 837 could help limit the circumstances in which plaintiffs would be awarded fees.

That amendment would allow one-way fees for declaratory judgment actions only in cases in which a claim has been completely denied by the insurer, or, as the amendment reads, “In an action brought for declaratory relief in state or federal court to determine insurance coverage after the insurer has made a total coverage denial of a claim.”

“We would all like a complete, ironclad repeal of one-way fees with no new dispensation, but a ‘total’ denial is not the same as characterizing every dispute as a denial, thus leading to fees,” one industry lobbyist said.

Other parts of SB 236 saw passionate debate during the Senate committee meeting Tuesday. Women who said they were victims of sex trafficking and violent crimes urged lawmakers to vote against the bill because it would require juries to allocate responsibility for an action. If a plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault, he or she could not recover damages.


The bill also contains a premises liability section. In civil suits against apartment complexes where crimes have occurred the courts “must consider the fault of all persons who contributed to the injury.” The women and a few trial attorneys testified that the wording could allow negligent landlords to show that the attacker or trafficker was at fault, potentially absolving property owners of responsibility to provide security and safeguards.

The language comes after several high-profile, multi-million-dollar jury verdicts against property owners around the South. Victims and their families have sued and argued that the properties should have installed better lighting and security measures.

Perhaps as a way to soften the impact of that section of the bill, senators on Tuesday offered two amendments that were voted down in the committee. One would have barred insurers from selling to multifamily residential properties policies that contain exclusions for assaults and for injuries involving firearms. Another failed amendment would have required premium discounts for properties that keep security guards on the premises.

SB 236 is now set to be heard in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee Thursday morning.


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Florida authorities have charged a Miami-area homeowner with fabricating and inflating damage estimates to his home in an attempt to defraud Tokio Marine Insurance Co. out of thousands of dollars.

Trevor Lawrence Taylor, 50, was arrested this week and booked into a correctional facility in Miami, Florida’s chief financial officer said in a news release. Taylor allegedly lied about the cause of damage to his glass patio doors in making a claim to his insurer. But Department of Financial Services investigators found that the doors were actually damaged by a contractor at the home who was operating a forklift, DFS said.

The contractor repaired the doors and provided Taylor a receipt of about $11,000. Taylor then fabricated receipts and altered the invoice to show an amount of $34,275, which would have allowed the homeowner to pocket more than $13,000, DFS said.

“Thank you to our fraud investigators for making this arrest and protecting Florida consumers,” Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said.

The department did not explain how the alleged fraud came to light. If convicted, Taylor could face up to 20 years in prison.


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