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Hurricane Michael Victim Tells Lawmakers She Was Victimized a Second Time by AOB Abuse

Florida Politics

Originally published by Consumer Protection Coalition  |   View Story

Consumer Protection Coalition releases new video outlining AOB victim’s story

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Feb. 7, 2019) – Jasmin Tolbert said it was bad enough when Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to her Panama City home. But her personal nightmare grew even worse, she said, when she became a victim of Assignment of Benefits abuse.

After sustaining water and wind damage to her home, Tolbert was asked by a repair vendor to sign an AOB in order to start repairs. Preferring not to sign over the rights to her insurance benefits, Tolbert said she crossed out the AOB language in the contract. But later she learned that someone had signed her name, without her permission, to a second contract with the same firm that still contained the AOB language.

She has since filed a forgery complaint with the Florida Department of Financial Services. “The best advice I can give to anyone, any homeowner who has a policy is, read. Read your policies, know your rights, seek help if you don’t understand,” Tolbert said. “Definitely do not sign an Assignment of Benefits.”

Tolbert attended Thursday’s AOB workshop meeting of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee to share her story and speak on behalf of consumers who support reform. Her story is outlined in a video posted on the Consumer Protection Coalition website, www.fightfraud.today.

Tolbert is the latest AOB abuse victim to come forward, share her story and call for meaningful reforms this legislative session. She joins many other home and auto owners who have been taken advantage of by shady repair vendors, many of them unlicensed, who solicit AOBs from policyholders and then use them to drive up the cost of claims and file costly lawsuits. What results are increased insurance costs for everyone.

“Far too often, Floridians like Jasmin Tolbert are duped into signing their insurance rights away, and are left at the mercy of lawyers and vendors looking to get rich quick. Now is the time to protect consumers by passing Assignment of Benefits reform legislation,” said Edie Ousley of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the Consumer Protection Coalition.

Also testifying during today’s subcommittee workshop was Paul Huszar, president and CEO of VetCor Services, a water damage restoration company founded and run by military veterans. Huszar said restoration companies like his do not need to solicit AOBs from policyholders in order to perform repairs and get paid by insurance companies. He said AOB abuse being committed by some repair vendors is hurting consumers and the reputation of the entire restoration industry.

The House subcommittee also heard from Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President and CEO Barry Gilway and others about the harmful impact of AOB abuse on consumers.

The meeting followed a similar workshop held in the Senate on Monday that also featured testimony from state leaders, consumers and other AOB reform supporters, including former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and James Lynch from the Insurance Information Institute.

The CPC applauds the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for recognizing the importance of addressing AOB abuse and holding meetings on the subject prior to the start of the session.

“We’re proud of those Floridians who are coming forward to tell their story of how they have fallen victim to AOB abuse,” said Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. “Insurers in Florida are determined to end the cycle of unscrupulous attorneys and vendors teaming up to take advantage of our state’s most vulnerable home and auto policyholders during a time of need. We applaud the House Civil Justice Committee for their discussion today on AOB and look forward to working with members of the House and Senate to pass meaningful AOB reform this session.”

“As lawmakers continue to debate assignment of benefits reform prior to the beginning of the legislative session, NAMIC is hopeful they will remain focused on the root cause of the AOB challenge – one-way attorney fees that have been co-opted by certain third-party vendors and lawyers. We need to decouple one-way attorney fees from AOBs so that policyholders will be protected from the exploding costs and abusive practices of the current situation,” said Liz Reynolds, regional vice president for the Southeast for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC).

"A policy with good intentions became a problem in Florida because it was exploited by a small group of lawyers and vendors, and insurance consumers are the ones with higher rates at the end of the day," said Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF). "It is time to stop the abuse of assignment of benefits by fixing a loophole that rewards few at the expense of many."

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The Consumer Protection Coalition is a broad-based group of professionals advocating for reforms to end Assignment of Benefits (AOB) abuse. Members include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Florida Justice Reform Institute, Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Contractors Association, Insurance Information Institute, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, Safelite Group Inc., Associated Builders and Contractors, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., Council of Property Claims Professionals, Florida Association of Insurance Agents, Florida Bankers Association, Florida Property and Casualty Association, Florida Realtors, Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, Florida Retail Federation, Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies, National Insurance Crime Bureau, Professional Insurance Agents of Florida, Rytech and VetCor Services.