Imagine, as if on cue, the Florida Legislature responded with significant legislation to respond to the December release of the American Tort Reform Foundation’s (ATRF) annual Judicial Hellholes report.
The timing would not have been more appropriate. Each December, the report lists the nation’s top Judicial Hellholes. While this year’s version didn’t include Florida as one of the most egregious legal climates, it placed the state Legislature on the Watch List, indicating that there is some serious work to do in Tallahassee.
While the ink was barely dry on the Judicial Hellhole report, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “emergency” special session was scheduled for the week of December 12th to deal with the rising property insurance crisis facing Florida homeowners and small businesses.
The prior two Florida legislative sessions were lackluster regarding seriously mitigating the growing disaster in the Sunshine State’s property insurance marketplace.
With premiums doubling that of other states at $3,200 and with 76 percent of all property insurance lawsuits occurring in Florida despite the state seeing only 7 percent of property insurance claims, clearly, legislative fixes are needed. The governor was forced to schedule a special session because the legislative leadership failed to manage to get it done. Ultimately, the product was too little, too late to have an immediate impact on the 2022 marketplace. Subsequently, Florida saw seven insurers go bankrupt in the last two years of this legislative leadership.
As the Judicial Hellholes report hit the press, the special session began with high hopes and the new leadership team of state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and state House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, delivered!
The Legislature addressed the biggest cost drivers, frivolous lawsuits, by eliminating “one-way attorney fees” and “Assignment of Benefits.” These two reforms alone will help push back against the unscrupulous roofers, public adjusters and attorneys who have preyed upon unsuspecting policy owners for years, driving up costs for all Floridians.
Second, the new legislative leadership pushed for reforming claims to streamline the process of homeowners filing claims. This new measure requires insurers to respond in 60 days rather than the 90-day window and reduces the window from two years to one year to file a claim. This, coupled with state funds to bolster the re-insurance marketplace, should help bring a sound actuarial basis to reduce the premiums we all have to pay.
DeSantis challenged the new Legislature and its leadership to take action. They came up with several reforms that should help mitigate, slow and hopefully reverse the ever-rising premiums on homeowner insurance.
Last year began with a regular session that avoided the necessary reforms and then a tepid special session in the middle of the year, which failed to deliver significant reforms. These two sessions ignored the reforms needed to reform how billboard attorneys exploit the system. However, this December, the newly reelected governor and the new legislative leadership brought needed change, making up for earlier misses during the special session.
In previous years, Florida had been on the Judicial Hellholes list and had recently dropped to the Watch List. While these reforms will not have a dramatic immediate impact in reducing premiums, we have seen significant reforms which will begin the process back from crisis. Much remains to be done, but Florida’s future is brighter today than it was a short six months ago!
Tom Gaitens is the executive director of Floridians Against Lawsuit Abuse.