Assignment-of-benefits haunts Florida’s homeowners insurers

Third party abuse of assignment-of-benefits is having a negative impact on Florida’s homeowners insurers’ 2017 financial results, according to a recent S&P Global article.

An assignment of benefits occurs when a person with an insurance claim allows a third party to be paid directly by the insurance company. Usually this happens after a claim, when the insured assigns their benefits right to a contractor or whoever is making the repair the claim is meant to cover. A loophole in the Florida law invites abuse of the right and the ensuing litigation drives up costs.

S&P Global’s article showed how the loophole has dramatically increased costs at Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Hurricane Irma by itself made 2017 a challenging one for Florida’s Citizens: over $1 billion in net losses and loss adjustment expenses.

But increased litigation expenses (which show up in insurance statements as direct defense and cost containment expenses incurred (DCCE) – often referred to as allocated loss adjustment expenses) – those hurt a lot too. The ratio of homeowners DCCE incurred to direct premiums earned increased to 16.9% from 15.2% in 2016, the average such ratio for the first 13 years of Citizens’ existence was 2.9%. In other words, litigation costs are almost six times worse than they were just a couple of years ago.

Private insurers in Florida are also reporting the negative impact of litigated assignment-of-benefits claims.  Universal Insurance Holdings, Florida’s largest private property insurer, reported that about 12% of its claims from Irma had some aspect of assignment of benefits to them.

So far, legislative reform of assignment-of-benefits abuse remains in limbo.

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