Tag Archives: Florida

Potential Tropical Cyclone 9 impacts likely in Puerto Rico, Florida

A broad area of low pressure called Potential Tropical Cyclone 9 will likely become Tropical Storm Isaias in the eastern Caribbean. If it were to get named, it would be the fifth named storm to form this July. The most Atlantic named storms to form in July on record (since 1851) is 5 in 2005.

The storm has potential to generate flash floods and mudslides in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as it strengthens. Tropical storm-force gusts could arrive in Florida as early as Friday night, but Saturday is much more likely, according to the National Weather Service Miami.

South Florida’s chances for experiencing tropical storm-force winds (speeds of at least 39 mph) stand at 15 percent to 25 percent in the next five days, the weather service said. It also said that “most of the rainfall this week will be over the interior and Gulf coast of southern Florida,” with rain chances increasing for Florida’s east coast on Friday.

Residents of Florida are strongly encouraged to prepare for Isaias and other storms during this above average hurricane season, and especially with the additional challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a news conference that the biggest problem officials anticipate is the ability to effectively social-distance while taking in large numbers of people at county storm shelters.

South Floridians should “start to examine what other opportunities or options they may have to be out of South Florida, to push inland or even to push out of the state in advance,” he said.

Click here for Triple-I’s hurricane preparedness tips.

Florida Dropped From 2020 “Judicial Hellholes” List

Each year the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) publishes a list of “Judicial Hellholes”  — places where ATRA says laws and court procedures are applied in an “unfair and unbalanced” way in civil cases, usually to the disadvantage of defendants.

Since the issue of social inflation has been trending in recent months, it’s no surprise that the mention of ATRA’s report in our Daily newsletter garnered an unprecedented number of clicks.

Florida — a former number one Judicial Hellhole — doesn’t even make the cut this year.

“Florida took great strides toward improving its legal climate in 2019,” ATRA says “Although there is much work to be done, the election of Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has heralded a sea change in Florida’s legal landscape, beginning with the appointment of several new Florida Supreme Court justices. This new court is deferential to legislative efforts to stop lawsuit abuse and poised to correct the course set by the prior activist court.”

DeSantis in 2019 also signed into law a measure aimed at curbing assignment of benefits (AOB) litigation in the state. 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. In Florida, however, legislative wrinkles have spawned a state of affairs in which legal fees can dwarf actual damages paid to the policyholder – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single low-damage claim.

The measure DeSantis signed puts new requirements on contractors and lets insurers offer policies with limited AOB rights, or none at all. But 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.

This year, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas took over the top spot for 2019. It is one of the preferred jurisdictions for asbestos litigation and home to an $8 billion product liability verdict. California, New York City, Louisiana, and St. Louis all rank in the top five.

Some of the trends noted in the ATRA report include:

  • the trial bar’s push to use public nuisance law to shift costs associated with public crises to businesses;
  • lead paint and climate change litigation;
  • the opioid and vaping crisis; and
  • new rights of action against employers.

Three Illinois counties – Cook, Madison, and St. Clair – made the list.  Antonio M. Romanucci, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, called the ATRA report misleading.  “The deceptively titled ‘Hellholes’ report is part of [ATRA’s] ongoing campaign to deny access to the court system that our tax dollars fund,” Romanucci told Illinois Radio Network. “ATRA’s annual publicity stunt demeans the U.S. Constitution and attacks citizens’ Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury.”

Romanucci said the number of civil lawsuits filed in Illinois has been declining since 2010 and was down 47 percent. And medical malpractice cases have dropped 32 percent since 2003.

I.I.I. Study: Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis is spreading – and is costing consumers billions of dollars

Ah, Florida. Home to sun-washed beaches, Kennedy Space Center, the woeful Marlins – and one of the costliest tort systems in the country.

A significant driver of these costs is Florida’s “assignment of benefits crisis.”

Today the I.I.I. published a report documenting what the crisis is, how it’s spreading and how it’s costing Florida consumers billions of dollars. You can download and read the full report, “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis: runaway litigation is spreading, and consumers are paying the price,” here.

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 nearly 135,000 through November 9, 2018, a 70 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.

Many of these inflated bills and lawsuits are driven by a select number of contractors and their attorneys. Florida insurance customers can protect themselves – and their fellow citizens – by being very cautious when signing away their benefits under an AOB.

Florida’s Department of Financial Services has published a “red flag” checklist for spotting fraudulent or abusive AOB solicitations. But the most important thing you can do is to talk to your agent before you sign anything!

To learn more about the crisis, download our report: “Florida’s assignment of benefits crisis: runaway litigation is spreading, and consumers are paying the price.”

Small Florida insurers survive hurricanes and “Judicial Hellhole”

Florida’s small P/C insurers have withstood losses from Hurricane Irma and a legal environment that’s dubbed a “judicial hellhole” by the American Tort Reform Association, a recent article in S&P Global Market Intelligence reports.

The financial ratings firm Demotech affirmed the financial strength of over 50 companies in late March, a decision found “encouraging” by the CEO of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp, Barry Gilway.

Gilway said that Demotech’s March actions is evidence of the resilience that smaller carriers showed during a year in which Hurricane Irma caused insured losses of about $8.61 billion, according to the latest Florida Office of Insurance Regulation tally.

Florida insurers face both weather-related risk and costs stemming from litigation on non-weather-related water-loss claims with an assignment of benefits (AOB) and other legal matters.  To combat the AOB problem, Citizens has drawn-up changes in policy language, increased efforts to fight fraud and grew its managed repair program. In January, Citizens said it expects AOB and litigation costs would account for about 23 percent of its 2018 operating expenses, up from 16 percent in 2017 – an increase of $17 million.

The frequency and severity of water-loss claims over the past 2.5 years shows “extremely negative trends,” and that deteriorating trends have begun to spread northward within the state, said Gilway.

Citizens is reopening approximately 37 percent of claims related to Hurricane Irma as part of its ongoing work to help its policyholders, who have been frustrated by a shortage of contractors, the Insurance Journal reported. A spokesperson for Citizens said that it’s common for claims to be reopened, and that the majority of those reopened are non-AOB Irma claims.

Avoiding a bad faith lawsuit in Florida

Florida is unique in that it has no objective bad faith standard, defining it as more than “mere negligence” without calling for a showing of evil intent. As a result, carriers need to watch for common pitfalls to reduce costly bad faith awards.

On March 14 Gen Re is offering its clients a webinar called Navigating the Bad Faith Minefield. Here are some of the bad faith related problems specific to Florida the webinar intends to cover:

  • The unique problems posed by “time limit” demand letters and how a missed deadline and/or failure to meet a key term “open up” the policy limit
  • Bad faith in a clear-liability case with a likely judgment exceeding a policy limit. Do carriers have an affirmative duty to offer the policy limit in such cases, even in the absence of a demand?
  • The tender traps that might be used to “set up” carriers for bad faith. How should carriers respond when presented with a serious injury case that involves low limits?

 

Sinkholes and Insurance

It was hard to miss the recent Florida story of a sinkhole fatality. This tragic event made news headlines in part because  fatalities due to sinkholes are  such a rare occurrence.

The story also prompted questions about sinkholes and insurance coverage.

Over at Straight Talk, the Insuring Florida blog, a post by Lynne McChristian explains that Florida has a sinkhole law requiring every property insurer to provide coverage for “catastrophic ground cover collapse†.

This is defined as:

1. Abrupt collapse of the ground cover,
2. A depression in the ground cover clearly visible to the naked eye,
3. Structural damage to the insured building, including the foundation, and
4. The insured structure being condemned and ordered vacated by the governmental agency authorized to do so.

However, a separate  optional comprehensive sinkhole policy is needed to cover any other type of sinkhole damage.

Florida is one of only two states that require home insurers to offer sinkhole coverage. The other is Tennessee.  In other states most homeowners insurance policies exclude coverage for sinkhole damage.

The Insuring Florida blog has  further background info on sinkhole insurance here.

More  info on sinkhole claims  is in  the I.I.I. facts+stats on homeowners and renters insurance.

Florida Focus

As the annual legislative session gets underway tomorrow in Tallahassee, Florida, the availability and affordability of coastal property insurance continues to be a hot-button issue. So it’s appropriate we check in with the latest poll of Florida voters for their take on the issue. The statewide poll, by the Property Casualty Insurers of America (PCI), surveyed and analyzed the views of 800 likely voters in the sunshine state. Its key findings:  

  • Homeowners insurance ranked as the No. 2 overall priority among Floridians after property taxes
  • 91 percent agree that the state should focus on helping reduce losses through better storm-proofing, such as controlling how and where homes are built
  • 75 percent of Floridians believe that the Legislature has not delivered on their promises to reduce the cost of homeowners insurance
  • 75 percent of Floridians believe that the long-term stabilization of rates is more important than immediate rate relief

Check out the I.I.I.’s latest information on the Florida property insurance market