Originally published by the Orlando Sentinel |
By Mark Wilson, Guest Columnist
If you knew the Legislature was keeping your auto insurance premiums higher than they could be, you’d want them to fix it. So do we.
In 2019, the Florida Legislature passed a bill to protect Orlando’s families from a fraud and abuse scam involving property insurance. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that measure into law and it is already helping to protect consumers.
But sadly, the Legislature’s work to end the AOB scam is not over.
The same Assignment of Benefits (AOB) abuse that plagued homeowners in Orlando and statewide is still festering in auto-glass repairs, ensnaring thousands of unsuspecting drivers in lawsuits they didn’t authorize. Orlando is ground zero for this bad behavior, which desperately needs a legislative fix.
Here’s how this scam works: An Orlando motorist goes to a car wash or shopping center and is approached by an auto-glass repair person who tells them they have a cracked windshield that can be replaced at no cost to them. Often, the repair person offers a $100 gift card or other incentive and asks the driver to sign some forms to authorize the work.
It sounds too good to be true, and it is. The car owner doesn’t know it, but by signing the forms — which include AOB language in tiny print — they are transferring all their insurance rights to the repair shop. And with that, their legal rights to any insurance claim or lawsuit are gone.
In thousands of cases filed in the Orange County courts, the repair shop filed lawsuits against the car owner’s insurance company, after the insurer disputed the cost of repairs that are often wildly inflated. Without the car owner’s knowledge or approval, they are named as a plaintiff against their own insurer — and can’t do anything about it.
The result is stress for Orlando drivers and higher auto insurance rates because of this lawsuit abuse.
How bad is auto glass lawsuit abuse involving AOB? In 2014, there were about 1,000 auto glass AOB lawsuits filed in Orange County. In 2019, there were about 8,200 such lawsuits, according to data compiled by the Florida Department of Financial Services. Orange and Hillsborough counties are now the epicenters of this sort of abuse.
The Consumer Protection Coalition, which is led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, has been fighting to end the AOB abuse for several years. Great progress was made last year, but the job isn’t finished.
Orlando’s drivers are being preyed upon by a small number of unscrupulous auto glass shops and a small array of law firms that file the vast major of these lawsuits. Contact your legislator and tell them 2020 is the year to end AOB auto glass abuse in Central Florida, once and for all.
The author is the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.