FIXING FLORIDA’S PROPERTY INSURANCE CRISIS
Historic reforms provide hope, but consumers must stay vigilant in 2023
With Governor Ron DeSantis leading the charge, the Florida Legislature held special sessions in May and December 2022 to address the state’s dire property insurance crisis, which has resulted in skyrocketing insurance premiums for consumers, multiple property insurer insolvencies and an explosion of growth in the state’s insurer-of-last-resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., due to a lack of coverage options in the private market.
Unquestionably, Florida’s property insurance meltdown is a manmade crisis, that has been fueled by the state’s bottom-five legal climate and that was further exacerbated by the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane’s Ian and Nicole.
With the encouragement of the Consumer Protection Coalition, the Legislature took bold and defining action in December 2022 to put a stake in the heart of what has truly driven Florida’s property insurance litigation tsunami – the risk-free incentives for billboard trial lawyers to sue and the lure of big attorney fee paydays they reap on the backs of Florida’s consumers.
Among the highlights of Senate Bill 2A, which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor DeSantis, were these important actions to protect consumers:
Reining in Attorney Fees and Incentives to Sue: The legislation passed into law ended Florida’s unique fee-shifting one-way attorney fee statutes for property insurance claims, reduced incentives to sue and tamped down on the legal games that plaintiff’s attorneys play. The new law also makes it easier to settle claims when there’s more than one insured in a household and improved Florida’s liberal bad faith statutes by addressing bad case law that resulted in additional litigation, even when there was no breach of contract by an insurer.
Ending fraud in Assignment of Benefits: Assignment of Benefits, or AOB, is a tool that has been used by unscrupulous trial lawyers and repair contractors to exploit consumers and drive costly and unnecessary property insurance lawsuits. AOB abuse has driven 33 percent of all property insurance litigation and has long been a target for reform by the Consumer Protection Coalition. With the passage of Senate Bill 2A, lawmakers prohibited the post-loss assignment of benefits, ending a cost driver that has been a cancer in Florida’s property insurance market for a decade.
Florida’s property insurance market faces challenges unlike those in any other state in the country, and this manmade crisis took years to develop. While Governor DeSantis and the Legislature took sweeping, pro-consumer steps to stabilize the market and assist its recovery, the crisis will not go away overnight and recovery could take many months. Time will tell if legal challenges are leveled against these good, common-sense reforms or if the lawsuit cottage industry that has preyed on Florida families will find new ways to abuse the system. In that regard, the CPC and consumers must stay on guard for new threats, scams and loopholes that prolong this manmade crisis and allow a few bad actors to reap huge profits on the backs of consumers. But 2022 was a year of significant progress, and the CPC will encourage more consumer protections in 2023.
Florida’s property insurance challenges are being addressed,
but won’t be solved overnight
Florida has by far the worst homeowners’ insurance litigation environment in the country.
In 2021, Florida accounted for just 7 percent of all the homeowners’ insurance claims in the U.S., but 76 percent of all homeowners’ insurance lawsuits in the country.
While claims handling by insurers in Florida appears no different than other states, Florida’s ratio of homeowners’ lawsuits filed to claims closed by insurers without payment was eight times higher than the second -highest state in the country, Connecticut.
In 2022, six Florida domestic property insurers went into receivership, while Florida’s property insurance premiums soared to three times the national average.
Citizens Property Insurance Corp. grew to more than 1.1 million policies by the end of 2022, as private insurers either collapsed, left the state or restricted writing coverage in high-litigation areas of Florida.