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Florida Legislature Weighs Options to Address Rising Homeowners Insurance Costs

Originally published by Insurance Journal | View Story

By Corey K. Setterlund

Three bills currently working their way through the Florida Legislature are designed to tackle the rising costs of homeowner roof claims, the costs of attorney fees in homeowner’s claims and issues surrounding notice to insurance carriers.

The proposed legislations come less than two years after Florida enacted an assignment of benefits law for homeowners’ property claims. But these latest efforts are meant to address the increasing costs of homeowners insurance due to market forces that were not addressed by the 2019 AOB bill. While these bills are preliminary and not law yet, it shows a shift in the legislature to reel in the liberal rules of lawsuits relating to property insurance claims.

Among the bills currently being considered is Senate Bill 76, which amends Florida statute (627.428) to award attorney’s fees for claims arising under the lodestar fee. Deviation from this method would be reserved for only rare and exceptional circumstances that competent counsel could not be retained in a reasonable manner.

The lodestar method determines what a reasonable fee for an attorney would be and requires the following determinations:

· The number of hours reasonably worked on the case;

· A reasonable hourly rate to apply to the related hours.

· The reasonable amount of hours would be multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate creating the lodestar number.

Further, SB 76 would allow insurance carriers to limit coverage on roof claims. Under the provision, a carrier can include a roof surface reimbursement schedule endorsement to the insurance policy, which allows for reimbursement for repairs, replacement and installation based on the annual age of a roof surface type, unless the roof is less than 10 years old. The schedule also would provide reimbursement amounts of no less than 70% for metal roofs, 40% for concrete, clay tile, wood shaker, and shingle roofs, and 25% for any remaining roof types.

SB 76 also extends certain statutes to cover all property insurance claims instead of just a windstorm or hurricane claim, which would bar property claims if the insurer is not provided notice of claim or supplemental claim within two years of the date of the loss.

The bill, if passed, would add a statute (627.70152), which would affect all property insurance policy lawsuits. Specifically, the statute would require any claimant(s) to provide at least 60 days’ notice of their intention of initiating litigation against their insurance carrier prior to filing the lawsuit.

The notice must include:

· The alleged acts or omissions of the insurer;

· The insured’s demand;

· Reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees incurred by claimants via calculation of the lodestar fee.

The new provision would give carriers the ability to inspect and evaluate the demand and allow the carrier to abate any lawsuit if said notice was not provided in compliance with the proposed statute. Attorney’s fees under this statute would provide a similar sliding scale structure as the assignee of an assignment of benefits related to property insurance claims and would be based on a demand to judgment quotient. SB 76 was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and is awaiting a hearing by the Judiciary Committee.

The Florida House of Representatives’ companion bill to SB76 – House Bill 305 – would amend the same statutes as SB 76, except it does not involve adding the claimant’s requirement to provide notice of intent to initiate litigation proposed in SB76. This bill is currently awaiting a hearing by the House Banking and Insurance Subcommittee.

The Florida Senate also introduced Senate Bill 212 as a standalone bill addressing just the attorney’s fees issue of reasonableness and multipliers. SB 212 would only entail adopting the lodestar fee for property insurance policy lawsuits. SB 212 is currently awaiting a hearing by the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Subcommittee.

These bills would provide insurers the ability to address the growing number of roof claims that were either not damaged by wind or hail or could be repaired yet facing litigation due to insureds, or their representatives, demand full replacement. Further, SB 76 would force claimants to provide notice to a carrier of their intent to file their lawsuit, giving the carrier an opportunity to re-evaluate the claim.

All three of these bills would go into effect on July 1, 2021 if passed and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis.

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