Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s proposed insurance fraud and legal system abuse reforms, announced this week for consideration during the legislative session that begins in March, would build on measures approved in the closing weeks of 2022 and go a long way toward fixing the state’s insurance crisis.
Legislation passed during the 2022 special session eliminated one-way attorney fees and assignment of benefits (AOB) arrangements for property insurance claims. Gov. DeSantis’s proposal would go further, eliminating these mechanisms and “attorney fee multipliers” for all lines of insurance.
“For decades, Florida has been considered a judicial hellhole due to excessive litigation and a legal system that benefitted the lawyers more than people who are injured,” DeSantis said in his announcement. “We are now working on legal reform that is more in line with the rest of the country and that will bring more businesses and jobs to Florida.”
Before the 2022 reforms, state law required insurers to pay the fees of homeowners insurance policyholders who successfully sued over claims, while shielding policyholders from paying insurers’ attorney fees when the policyholders lose. The legislation also eliminated AOBs – agreements in which property owners sign over their claims to contractors, who then work with insurers.
AOBs are a standard practice in insurance, but in Florida this consumer-friendly convenience has long served as a magnet for fraud. The state’s legal environment – including some of the most generous attorney-fee mechanisms in the country – has encouraged vendors and their attorneys to solicit unwarranted AOBs from tens of thousands of Floridians, conduct unnecessary or unnecessarily expensive work, then sue insurers that deny or dispute the claims.
As a result, Florida accounts for nearly 80 percent of the nation’s homeowners’ insurance lawsuits, but only 9 percent of claims, according to the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation.
Eliminating these two mechanisms for property claims addresses much of the insurance fraud in the state. Eliminating them for all lines would be a promising sign that the state is truly committed to addressing the root causes of the crisis.
Florida’s insurance crisis didn’t happen overnight, and it will take years for the impacts of fraud and legal system abuse to be wrung out of the system. Policyholders won’t see premium benefits any time soon. Job 1 is to “stop the bleeding” as insurers fail, leave the state, or stop writing critical personal lines coverages like auto and homeowners.
Triple-I has published a new Issues Brief about the crisis and the state’s efforts to repair it.