Hurricane Ian cut a path across Florida like General Sherman did through Georgia, leaving devastation in its wake. Early estimates of $ 63 billion in damages only begin to show the cost of this Category 4 storm.
Hurricane Ian was the first major storm to target Florida since Hurricane Michael in October 2018. However, another storm has been brewing and causing widespread damage across the landscape of Florida–and is about to leave many victims in its destructive path. Let’s call it Tropical Depression Homeowners Insurance Crisis.
This week marks the American Tort Reform Association’s annual “Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week.” As the executive director for Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, I had been preparing to illuminate the quick-sand impact of legislative drift over the past four years. The Florida Legislature has not done enough to help homeowners with the rising cost of homeowners insurance and the troubled marketplace for carriers as a result of frivolous lawsuits and spurious roofing claims which have plagued our state.
Floridians pay over $4200, on average, for homeowners insurance and it is largely due to the failure to control bad actors’ “abuse” of the homeowners’ marketplace. Currently, 27 insurance carriers are on the “Watch List” at the state Office of Insurance Regulation. In the last two years, six carriers have gone out of business and many others have stopped writing new policies. Citizens, the state insurer of last resort, has now exploded to more than 1 million insured.
The storm we are watching has been growing in strength while the state Legislature has failed to address the problems head-on. Waiting until a late special session to pass meaningful reforms, which even in the best-case scenario would have taken more than a year to have any significant impact, has placed all Floridians into a precarious circumstance. Citizens may not have the necessary reserves and more insurers may fail to survive Ian–placing an enormous burden upon all insurers irrespective of the carrier or direct impact of the hurricane.
Meaningful solutions include a more robust targeting of “Assignment of Benefits,” “One-way Attorney Fees” and “Actual Cash Value for Roof Replacements.” These are reforms that should have been passed years ago. Only addressing them in a limited way during a special session only serves as a delay, which will cost all Floridians during this inflationary economic environment.
We cannot wait any longer to address the out-of-control “bad faith” actors who have exploited loopholes in the insurance marketplace to file frivolous lawsuits left and right. Predatory roofing contractors and their unscrupulous attorney accomplices who clog our court system with unnecessary litigation have broken the insurance marketplace in Florida.
When nearly 80 percent of all property insurance claim suits occur in Florida and less than 10 percent of all claims, are in the Sunshine State, you can see the disparity which forces rates higher and higher, until companies either stop writing new policies, leave, or go bankrupt.
We did not need a devastating storm to illustrate the terrible landscape facing Floridians against predatory attorneys during “Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week.” However, this should be a clarion call to all legislators, irrespective to party or whether they themselves take donations from the trial lobby, to enact meaningful, bold and dynamic reforms to protect all Floridians from further storm damage from this Homeowners Insurance Crisis.
Tom Gaitens is the executive director of the Florida chapter of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA).
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