Originally published by Insurance Journal |
For the seventh year in a row, the Florida insurance industry, regulators, and consumer advocates will push for reforms to the state’s assignment of benefits issue that has now become an insurance crisis, according to a report from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)
“[Florida’s] legal environment has encouraged vendors and their attorneys to solicit unwarranted AOBs from tens of thousands of Floridians, conduct unnecessary or unnecessarily expensive work, then file tens of thousands of lawsuits against insurance companies that deny or dispute the claims,” the report says of the misuse of the policyholder protection known as AOB.
Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, said the I.I.I. study underscores the global problem with AOBs in Florida, and highlights the “pernicious effects of our one-way fee law on our justice and insurance systems.”
“It is well past time for the [Florida] Legislature to fix this problem,” he said, noting a bill addressing attorney fees – Senate Bill 122 – has already been filed for 2019 Florida Legislative Session, which begins in March.
With rates rising and insurers pulling back in parts of the state where the abuse is most rampant, such as in South Florida, insurance leaders say the crisis must be addressed.
“The key issue at OIR [Office of Insurance Regulation] is the issue of AOB,” Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier told attendees at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual Insurance Summit in November. “It is an excessive litigation issue driven primarily by a loophole in the attorney fee statute … [it] is being used to the detriment of consumers.”
Carlson said the key issue for the insurance industry “has always been the perverse incentive to game the system that is created by the one-way attorney fee law, which was intended to benefit specific categories of insureds, not any assignee.”
In previous sessions, bills to reform the statute have failed thanks to lobbying by the trial bar. But the industry is hopeful 2019 will be different.
“I believe that there is real interest in the Senate to finally and meaningfully address the AOB crisis that is hurting consumers in Florida,” Carlson said.
CFO Jimmy Patronis said Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s filing for an 8.2 percent rate filing largely because of litigation and losses from AOB is evidence of why reform needs to happen this year for the sake of consumers.
“We need to bring everyone to the table—that includes insurers, attorneys, contractors, and state leaders—to find the best solutions to addressing this mounting problem,” Patronis said in a statement.