TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida legislators have a crisis to tackle this week as they convene for a special session in an attempt to fix the state’s homeowners insurance problems.
“If most of these things get done,” said Ron Assise, CIC, CPRM. “This will be the most significant legislative session in over a decade.”
Assise is an insurance broker and senior vice president at The Horton Group.
There are currently two identical bills proposed in the state house and senate, aimed at fixing issues impacting insurance companies and their customers. The proposals are the same, which Assise said gives him hope.
Here’s a breakdown of what legislators hope to address in the upcoming session.
One-way attorney’s fees
“Even though we just went through the costliest hurricane on record,” Assise explained. “It’s generally not about weather. It’s about litigation.”
The proposed bills get rid of one-way attorney’s fees — considered by some to be the main driver of rising insurance costs. The fees allow lawyers to collect more money if an insurer offers a settlement to a policy holder more than their original payout offer.
State insurance regulators say Florida accounts for almost 80% of the nation’s homeowners’ insurance lawsuits, but just 9% of all homeowners insurance claims. Assise said this comes out to about 400 new lawsuits a day in Florida.
That’s more than most states will see in an entire year. Most other states average around zero or one lawsuits each day.
“The one-way attorney’s fees are kind of the holy grail,” said former State Senator Jeff Brandes. “It’s the thing we’ve been looking for for a long, long time.”
Mandatory binding arbitration
This means insurers would be allowed to arbitrate disputes over payouts, forcing policy holders to argue claims in front of a third party, instead of going to court.
Arbitration would happen within 120 days.
The insurer of last resort
The final important part of the proposed bills: relieving pressure on Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s public insurer of last resort. Citizens is growing by nearly 10,000 new policies each week, and recently crossed the 1 million mark.
If you have a Citizens policy, but are offered a private insurance policy with a premium within 20 percent of your Citizens policy, the bills would require you to switch.
Changes to deadlines for filing a claim
Finally, there are some new proposed deadlines for insurance:
- Homeowners only have one year to make a claim
- Insurers have 60 days to deny a claim
- Insurers have 30 days to do an initial inspection, even after a hurricane
- Insurers have 7 days to acknowledge any communication during a claim
But to Brandes, the bills aren’t perfect.
“The legislature needed a 10 out of 10 piece of legislation,” Brandes said. “This is about an 8 out of 10 piece of legislation.”
While he’s glad attorney’s fees are on the chopping block, change takes time.
“This is not a medicine that is going to kick in overnight,” Brandes said. “It’s going to take 18 to 24 months. And frankly, there’s still some pain on the way.”