Category Archives: Homeowners Insurance

Florida’s AOB Crisis:
A Social-Inflation Microcosm

Never heard of “social inflation”? It’s a fancy term to describe rising litigation costs and their impact on insurers’ claim payouts, loss ratios, and, ultimately, how much policyholders pay for coverage.

The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

While there’s no universally agreed-upon definition, frequently mentioned aspects of social inflation are growing awards from sympathetic juries and a trend called “litigation funding”, in which investors pay plaintiffs to sue large companies – often insurers – in return for a share in the settlement.

Less discussed are state initiatives that inadvertently invite costly abuse. Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis is an excellent example.

Assignment of benefits (AOB) is a standard insurance practice and an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims. As a convenience, a policyholder lets a third party – say, an auto glass repair company – directly bill the insurer.

Easy.

In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

The state’s “David and Goliath” law was meant to level the playing field between policyholders and economically powerful insurers. It lets plaintiffs’ attorneys collect fees from the insurer if they win their case – but not vice versa. If the insurer wins, the plaintiff owes the insurer nothing.  This creates an incentive for attorneys to file thousands of AOB-related suits because there is no limit on the fees they can collect and no risk. Legal fees can dwarf actual damages paid to the policyholder – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single low-damage claim.

AOBs are an efficient, customer-friendly way to settle claims…. In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a crisis.

This type of arrangement is unique to Florida. And, despite efforts to contain it through reforms to the state’s personal injury protection (PIP) program, the abuse has spread beyond its origins in the southern part of the state and to other lines than personal auto and homeowner’s insurance. More than 153,000 AOB suits were filed in Florida in 2018 – a 94% increase from about 1,300 five years earlier.

Contributing to the crisis is the ease with which unscrupulous contractors can “find” damage unrelated to an insured incident or overbill for work done and file a claim. Florida statutes let policyholders assign benefits to a third party without insurer consent – which limits the insurer’s ability to monitor a claim to make sure costs aren’t inflated.

A measure signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year aimed to curb AOB litigation by putting new requirements on contractors and letting insurers offer policies with limited AOB rights, or none at all.  However, it excludes auto glass repairs. The number of auto glass AOB lawsuits statewide in 2013 was over 3,800; by 2017, that number had grown to more than 20,000.

Florida’s experience provides an ongoing study into how hard it can be to stuff the social inflation genie back into its bottle.

For more details, see I.I.I.’s white paper, “Florida’s Assignment of Benefits Crisis: Runaway Litigation Is Spreading, and Consumers are Paying the Price”.

Managing your insurance claim after disaster

Lynne McChristian

By Lynne McChristian, I.I.I. Media Spokesperson and Non-resident Scholar 

If Hurricane Dorian left its imprint on your home or business, you’ve likely already started the claims process with a call to your insurer. Knowing what happens next will be helpful as the recovery begins.

The insurance claims process is indeed a process. There are steps involved and requirements from both the policyholder and the insurance company. Most people have never had to file an insurance claim of any sort. And if they had, it might have been an automobile accident claim, which can be far less complex that one that involves damage to something as large and costly as a home and whatever is inside it.

After a widespread natural disaster, insurers take a triage approach to claims handling, and that means those people who suffered the most damaging losses are seen first. Obviously, everyone with damage wants to be seen promptly, yet taking care of people in order of damage is what serves those most in need.

After you report a claim, someone will be sent out to appraise the damage. You might have more than one insurance claims professional visit, as there is separate expertise involved – depending on the damage you reported. You might have someone look at the structure, an additional claims adjuster for the contents damage, and then a flood damage claims expert visit your property, if you have flood insurance protection. Some of these insurance professionals may work directly for your insurer, while others are hired as independent contractors to give your claim faster attention. Tip: Get a business card and cellphone number for every person who appraises the damage, so you can follow up.

If your home is so badly damaged that you cannot live in it, you may get a check on the spot from your claims adjuster. This is not a settlement check. It is coverage that is part of a standard homeowners policy, called Additional Living Expense. It covers the extra expenses you’ll have if you must live elsewhere while your home is repaired or rebuilt.

Above all else, keep organized and retain all your receipts. Temporary repairs you made to prevent further damage are covered under your policy. You will want to keep the process rolling to return to normal – and insurers want that, too.

 

The evacuation dilemma: stay or go?

As of Saturday evening, Hurricane Dorian is making a big right hand turn, moving the storm’s threat north.
So now it seems Georgians and South Carolinians are facing the evacuation dilemma: stay or go?
I’ve been there. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was heading arrow straight for the border between Broward and Miami-Dade counties. We lived a mile north of that.
We boarded the house up as best we could, moved our valuable stuff (a lamppost, a stereo, a rocker we bought on our honeymoon) into the downstairs bathroom, where it would be best protected. And we sat on our couch and cried. We knew what we owned was junk, but it was our junk. It was everything we had, and we knew we would never see it again.
Then we left.
Too many people take the chance and stay behind. Travelers Insurance surveyed people living in hurricane-prone states. The survey found:

  • Men (23%) were more likely than women (11%) to ignore a mandatory evacuation order.
  • Millennials (21%) were more likely to ignore an order than Gen Xers (16%) or Baby Boomers (11%).
  • People in the most cane-prone states (Florida, Louisiana, Texas’ Gulf Coast) were the stubbornest. Georgians, Alabamians, Mississippians, Virginians and North Carolinians were most likely to heed the order.

Back in 1992, my wife and I were lucky. Hurricane Andrew drifted south, and we returned to a home intact.

Even so, we made the right decision, and I’d urge anyone in the same position now to leave. After all, insurance can help you recover the stuff you’ve lost. But no one can replace you.

I.I.I. has some tips for what to do when a hurricane threatens.

NICB: Top 5 states for hail claims

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) recently released a three-year analysis of insurance claims associated with hail storms in the United States.  According to the NICB review of claims data from ISO ClaimSearch®, there were a total of 2.9 million hail loss claims in the United States from 2016 through 2018.

The top five states for hail loss claims were:

  • Texas (811,381)
  • Colorado (395,025)
  • Nebraska (163,336)
  • Missouri (153,403)
  • Kansas (146,206).

The top five cities for hail loss claims during that period were:

  • San Antonio, Texas (75,187)
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado (67,920)
  • Omaha, Nebraska (52,803)
  • Denver, Colorado (48,357)
  • Plano, Texas (42,659).

Over the three years covered by the report, May had the highest monthly average for hail loss claims with 203,296. June was next with 178,881. April (164,232), March (153,716) and July (96,947) round out the top five.

Of the five policy types providing hail loss coverage, Personal Property-Homeowners was the most affected with 1,657,663 claims or 57 percent of the three-year total. It was followed by Personal Auto with 898, 500 claims and Personal Property – Farm with 149,215 claims.

“Hail damage fluctuates year-to-year, but what seems to be consistent is the number of unscrupulous contractors ready to swoop in promising a quick fix, which is why NICB encourages policyholders to use caution when selecting a contractor or other workers to help repair your property or replace your windshield following a storm,” said Brooke Kelley, NICB vice president of communications. “Always check first with your insurance company or agent before signing any documents presented by a contractor whom you did not request to appear. It’s why we say, “If you didn’t request it, reject it.”

The following tips are also helpful:

  • Get more than one estimate
  • Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away
  • Get everything in writing
  • Require references and check them out
  • Ask to see the contractor’s driver’s license and write down the number and the license plate on his or her vehicle

The I.I.I. has facts & statistics about hail here and here.

 

Earthquakes: More links from Insurance Information Instititute

We posted this look at insurance coverage and earthquakes earlier today. More important links about earthquakes and insurance:

 

What a Shocker: Florida Tops the List for Lightning Claims

By Loretta L. Worters, Vice President – Media Relations, Insurance Information Institute

Authorities believe a lightning strike caused a home to go up in flames in the Riverview area of Florida on Friday, June 14, ironically just days before Lightning Safety Awareness Week (June 23-29) commenced.

Often referred to as the lightning capital of the nation, it is no revelation that Florida ranked first for lightning caused homeowners insurance claims in 2018, with 7,108 claims, followed by Georgia (5,539) and California (4,909), a new addition to the line-up. Texas, which had ranked second in 2016, fell to fourth place (4,559).

The number of lightning-caused homeowners insurance claims decreased in 2018—the third straight year it has done so—yet the average cost per claim has soared since 2016.  The I.I.I. findings, based on national insurance claims numbers, determined that more than $900 million in lightning claims were paid out in 2018 to nearly 78,000 policyholders.  The cumulative value of claims caused by lightning rose six percent between 2016-2018.

With increased labor and construction costs as well as a consumer appetite for smart home products, it’s not surprising that lightning-related homeowners insurance claims costs have risen.  The average cost per claim rose eight percent from 2017 to 2018. However, the average cost per claim between 2016 and 2018 increased 21 percent – a veritable bolt from the blue!

 

Are impact-resistant roof shingles all they’re cracked up to be? The IBHS is on the case

Getty Images

By Jennifer Ha, Head of Editorial and Publications, Insurance Information Institute 

Hail damage is a growing problem in large regions of the United States and causes about $1 billion in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As such, after years of field and lab research, the Insurance Institute for Business Home and Safety (IBHS) has recently released the results of its first hail impact performance program—the IBHS Impact Resistance Test Protocol for Asphalt Shingles—designed to track impact-resistant roofing products and to demonstrate the IBHS performance standard for impact-resistant shingles.

To test its standard, IBHS bought the most widely purchased impact-resistant shingles available to consumers and tested them in its lab under simulated real-world conditions, which it has now published on its website. The site includes disclosures, test standards and Member-only data.

Florida has passed AOB reform – but will it be enough?

As we noted a few weeks ago, the Florida Senate has passed a bill designed to reform parts of the state’s insurance assignment of benefits (AOB) system. Governor Ron DeSantis has stated that he plans to sign the bill into law. (You can view the Senate version of the bill, SB 122, here).

Florida’s AOB system has long been in dire need of reform.

As we document in our report “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis”, an assignment of benefits (AOB) is a contract that allows a third party – a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair shop – to bill an insurance company directly for repairs or other services done for the policyholder.

The process is innocuous and common throughout the country. But as our report notes, Florida’s unique legal system richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed. Tens of thousands of lawsuits.

Reform only addresses property insurance

The new AOB bill is designed to curtail at least some of this abuse by addressing how AOBs can be executed and how plaintiff’s attorneys can be compensated. But it’s important to note that the bill addresses AOBs in property insurance.

For good reason: AOB abuse has been a growing problem in homeowners property insurance.

Other lines also face AOB abuse

However, AOB abuse is not limited to property insurance. As we document in our report, the abuse actually started in personal injury protection (PIP) claims in personal auto insurance and then spread to homeowners following PIP reform in 2012. The abuse also spread into auto glass coverage in the past few years, though there was a decrease in auto glass abuse in 2018.

The lesson here is that AOB abuse is not limited to one line of insurance. Indeed, reforms could push abuse into a different line, as was the case with homeowners and auto glass after PIP was reformed.

While reforming AOBs in property insurance could have a significant impact on the problem in Florida, it remains to be seen whether abuse overall will change with reform. Some have argued that the abuse could continue in other lines where the reform doesn’t reach, like auto glass. And perhaps it could move into another line that hasn’t even been abused yet, like businessowners insurance. There are also worries that abusive AOB claims could spike right before the reform comes into effect.

For more information about the scope of the problem, download our report here.

Florida legislature passes AOB reform

Insurance Journal reports that the Florida Senate has passed a bill designed to reform parts of the state’s insurance assignment of benefits (AOB) system. Governor Ron DeSantis has stated that he plans to sign the bill into law.

Florida’s AOB system has long been in dire need of reform.

As we document in our report “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis”, an assignment of benefits (AOB) is a contract that allows a third party – a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair shop – to bill an insurance company directly for repairs or other services done for the policyholder.

The process is innocuous and common throughout the country. But as our report notes, Florida’s unique legal systems richly rewards plaintiff’s attorneys and vendors when they submit inflated bills to insurance companies and then file lawsuits when those bills are disputed.

Not just a few lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits. The numbers are staggering. There were roughly 1,300 AOB lawsuits statewide in 2000. There were more than 79,000 in 2013 and more than 153,000 in 2018, a 94 percent increase in just five years.

Inflated claims and massive volumes of lawsuits have the predictable result of driving up insurance companies’ legal costs. Insurers are forced to then pass those costs on to consumers. In the study, we estimate that Florida’s auto and homeowners policyholders have paid about $2.5 billion more for insurance over the past dozen years to cover the increase in legal costs.

That doesn’t even count the billions more in excess claim settlements that are at the heart of the problem.

The new bill seeks to address the problem by reforming how AOBs can be executed and how plaintiff’s attorneys can get paid for lawsuit settlements. If signed, the bill will come into effect on July 1, 2019.

You can download our report documenting the crisis here.