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VIII. Private Flood Insurance Bill (HB 813)

 

HB 813 mandates that the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Prevention Methodology revise hurricane loss prevention models every four years. Current law requires that an agent notify the insured that if they choose to leave the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and later return, they will pay the full-risk rate, not the NFIP-subsidized rate. Additionally, the agent must obtain a signed disclosure from the insured acknowledging such; current law requires the agent provide written notice to be signed by the applicant upon receiving the application to obtain private flood coverage. The new language allows the agent more flexibility by requiring the agent provide the signed notice at any point before the agent actually places flood coverage with a private insurer. However, the agent may avoid obtaining the acknowledgment if the NFIP allows insureds, at some point in the future, to return to the program at any time and still obtain the subsidized rate.

 

 The bill extends the sunset for insurers not having to get private flood rates approved from October 1, 2019 to October 1, 2025. The bill also extends from 2017 to 2019 an exemption from the diligent effort search requirement for surplus lines insurers. Also, if fewer than three admitted insurers are writing flood on July 1, 2019 when the diligent search exception expires, the agent may only obtain a number of declinations that meet the number of admitted insurers providing coverage. For example, if only one flood insurer is writing private coverage, only one declination will be required.

LEGISLATION THAT FAILED THIS SESSION:

III. Assignment of Benefits (HB 1421)

 

There were a number of variations of legislation and amendments to rectify the AOB abuse epidemic throughout Florida. Unfortunately, no good AOB measure was able to succeed. However, we were successful in fighting off measures by the trial bar that would have enhanced the already prevalent AOB abuse.

 

There were two main vehicles addressing AOB. HB 1421 by Representative Grant, and SB 1218 by Senator Farmer. The House bill was the preferred vehicle for insurers, whereas the Senate bill was a trial-bar friendly initiative. The House bill would have required disclosures be provided to the insureds before entering into an AOB. It also would have moved to a “loser pays” attorney fee system. The House legislation provided the insured with an opportunity to rescind the assignment within 7 days of entering into the contract with the vendor. Further, the bill increased consumer protections and required vendors to provide written estimates of the work to be completed and required the assignee to notify the insurer of the assignment within 3 days of it being executed.

 

The Senate bill was amended a number of times and ultimately was not heard in its final committee. Generally, the Senate measure neglected to change the current attorney fee law for vendors, essentially endorsing the notion that vendors under AOB assignments are eligible to receive unlimited attorney fees. The Senate bill was extremely unfriendly to insurers and did not contain any attorney fee language. It required insurers to eliminate the costs of attorney gees on cases in which they lose a claim case in litigation from being part of the base rate and would have, essentially, ended the ability to utilize a managed repair program or ability to invoke the right to repair on a particular claim.   ( Welcome to Higher Home Insurance premiums)

IV. Workers Compensation

 

HB 7085 addresses the recent decisions declaring some components of Florida’s Workers Compensation law unconstitutional. The bill would permit direct payments of attorneys by or on behalf of claimants and increases the total combined temporary wage replacement benefits (TTD/TPD) from 104 weeks to 260 weeks. It also allows a Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) to award an hourly fee that departs from the statutory percentage based attorney fee limitation of $1500 under certain situations. Among several other components, HB 7085 also permits insurers to uniformly reduce premiums by no more than 5% if they file an informational-only notice within 30 days. Insurance industry representatives believe that the ability of a judge to award additional attorneys’ fees above the standard fee of $1,500 makes this bill less than ideal, and likely means that litigation will continue to expand causing rates to increase.

 

SB 1582 requires insurance carriers to authorize or decline requests for 

authorization from health care providers within a three-day period and provides that a request is deemed to be authorized if the carrier fails to respond. Like the House bill, the Senate bill increases the temporary partial disability benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks, in compliance with the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg. SB 1582 eliminates the statutory fee schedule of $1,500 for setting claimant attorney’s fees but allows the judge to consider certain factors and permit deviation from the attorney fee schedule. 

 

 

The two bills remained different between chambers through the end of session. The House sought to curb attorney’s fees and was more industry friendly than the Senate bill, which was seen as friendlier to the trial bar.

 

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A bill backed by the insurance industry to curb the abuse of Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute in assignment of benefit claims has stalled as lawmakers opted to instead advance what the insurance industry and the state’s regulator feel is a less effective measure.

The legislative maneuver sparked criticism by the Wall Street Journal of the Senate chair of the key committee, who in turn has accused the industry of mounting a “smear” campaign against her.

The industry setback came on Monday when the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores (R-Miami, Monroe), left Senate Bill 1038 off its agenda. This bill, drafted by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation with support from the state-run insurer Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and other industry groups, seeks to keep AOB consumer protections in place, but take away the incentive – the one-way attorney fee – that the industry claims is driving abuse by unregulated water mitigation, remediation and roofing contractors typically working with attorney groups

The insurance industry had tempered its expectations of getting the legislation passed because of lobbying by trial attorneys and unlicensed contractors, who the industry says are inflating water damage claims and filing frivolous lawsuits. Under Florida’s current one-way attorney fee statute, policyholders suing their insurer over a claim dispute can recover their attorney’s fees if the insurer is shown to have underpaid the claim, by any amount.

“If you look at the trends of water claims over the last five years – it’s alarming,” Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told Insurance Journal in February. “Absent any kind of reforms to address those trends, we could be seeing rate increases of 10 percent a year just to keep up.”

Please enjoy the full article below.

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2017/04/05/446884.htm

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Florida now has legislation backed by the top Florida insurance regulator and the industry that promises to curtail homeowners insurance abuse under the assignment of benefits (AOB) feature.

Senate Bill 1038, filed Feb. 17 by State Sen. Dorothy Hukill and co-sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, seeks to clarify the intent of the assignment of benefits provision for policyholders and limit the scope of benefits provided to those other than the named insured on the policy

The assignment of benefits bill would also instill specified conditions for assignment agreements to be valid. The bill stipulates that an assignment agreement will not be valid unless it meets the following conditions:

  • Agreement is in writing and is executed by all named insureds
  • Allows insureds to rescind the assignment agreement within seven business days without penalty
  • Requires the assignee to provide a copy of the assigned agreement to the insured no later than three business days after the agreement is executed;
  • And includes a written, itemized, per-unit cost estimate of the work to be performed by the assignee.

Other stipulations of the bill include: prohibiting certain provisions in an assignment agreement; specifying requirements for an assignee or transferee; and requiring an assignee to meet certain requirements as a condition precedent to filing suit under a policy.

Under Florida’s current one-way attorney fee statute, policyholders suing their insurer over a claim dispute can recover their attorney’s fees if the insurer is shown to have underpaid the claim, by any amount. The goal of the bill is to keep the assignment of benefits consumer protection in place, but take away the incentive – the one-way attorney fee – that the industry claims is driving abuse by assignees, who have included unregulated water mitigation, remediation and roofing contractors typically working with attorney groups.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, the bill would become effective July 1, 2017

Please enjoy the full article below;

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2017/02/28/443010.htm

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Florida’s insurance industry will apply significant pressure on lawmakers to pass assignments of benefit (AOB) reform in the upcoming legislative session as consumers face rate increases and a looming coverage availability crisis due to serious and costly abuse of the policyholder benefit.

While the industry seems to finally have reached a consensus on what is fueling the widespread AOB abuse and how to fix it, the question of whether the Florida Legislature will agree to act on the industry’s recommendations remains to be seen

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) and Citizens Property Insurance Corp., as well as other stakeholders, are working together with Florida lawmakers to introduce a bill for the 2017 legislative session, which begins on March 7. The goal is to keep the assignment of benefits consumer protection in place, but take away the incentive that is driving the abuse by assignees, who have included attorney groups, unregulated water mitigation, remediation, and roofing contractors.

The unanimous feeling is that Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute is the main driver of the problem, and that’s what the industry says needs to be addressed by legislation in the upcoming session. Under Florida’s current law, policyholders suing their insurer over a claim dispute can recover their attorney’s fees if the insurer is shown to have underpaid the claim, by any amount.

The industry says third party contractors and attorneys have been abusing the policyholder benefit, particularly for water losses, to inflate claims and fees

 

Please enjoy the full article below;

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2017/02/15/441784.htm

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In September, Hurricane Hermine broke Florida’s hurricane drought that had lasted since 2005. The category 1 storm hit the Florida Panhandle, bringing significant storm surge to the Tampa Bay area before slowly traveling up the Eastern Seaboard.

The storm weakened to a tropical storm as it moved inland in Florida, with winds topping 70 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, but it was still enough to cause widespread damage and power outages. Toppled trees in Tallahassee left some residents without power for a week

Then in October, Hurricane Matthew hit. The storm was classified as a category 3 with winds of 120 miles per hour.

“When Matthew was nearing Florida, there was a large amount of uncertainty of whether there would be more wind and storm surge or less so because the storm was paralleling so close to the coast,” said Tom Sabbatelli, RMS Hurricane Risk Expert based in the UK

 

Please read the full story below;

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2016/12/14/435122.htm

 

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Assignment of benefits abuse has become such a well-known problem in the state of Florida this year that it now just goes by the nickname “AOB.”

The issue with AOB comes from when a policyholder suffers a loss, such as water damage to their home, and then signs over their insurance policy to the person repairing the damage. Repair contractors utilizing the AOB on behalf of the insured often work with attorneys who then sue the insurance company over the claim

Florida’s one-way attorney fee statute has encouraged these suits because the insurance company is typically left paying the attorney fees. In many cases, policyholders don’t know the lawsuit has even been filed.

Florida’s state-run insurer Citizens has been the most affected by this abuse. Citizens CEO and Executive Director Barry Gilway says that the negative impact on the pricing of property insurance and availability of coverage in Florida is getting worse. Gilway said while the gross misuse of the AOB form is a major component of the issue, the problem has really become a litigation issue relating to all non-wind water claims.

“The situation is deteriorating even further at Citizens,” Gilway told Insurance Journal. “Despite a book of business that has stabilized at around 490,000 policies, we are now projecting the number of lawsuits received each month will grow from 900 this year to over 1,000 in 2017. And yes, it is the same 10-15 firms that continue to be responsible for 60 percent of the litigation across the state.”

Please click the link below to read the full story!!

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2016/12/13/434926.htm

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Florida lawmakers can expect substantial pressure to tackle the assignment of benefits (AOB) and water loss claims crisis from the state’s insurer of last resort when Florida’s legislative session begins early next year.

At a governing board meeting Wednesday, leaders of Citizens stressed that rising water claims and “out of control” litigation are threatening the insurer’s long-term financial stability and will stifle efforts by Citizens to offer premium breaks to policyholders in 2017.

The company said that barring significant changes, including possible legislative action on assignment of benefits, non-hurricane losses will continue to chip away at Citizens‘ reserves and could result in policies returning to the state’s insurer of last resort as private insurers face similar challenges.

“Without significant reform, litigation, water claims and AOB pose a serious threat to the financial position of Citizens,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of the Board of Governors. “This is not a sustainable situation.”

Citizens plans to make AOB reform its 2017 legislative priority, the company said.

Please enjoy the full article below;

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2016/12/08/434610.htm

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