Fla. House Moves Forward on Property Insurance Plan.

In different bills, the House and Senate are trying to reduce insurance lawsuits by placing restrictions on attorney fees and attempting to curb what industry officials say are questionable roof-damage claims. Lawmakers must agree on a final version by the April 30 end of session.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With one supporter saying the bill could help “stop the bleeding,” the Florida House moved forward Friday with a revised plan to make changes in the state’s property insurance system.

The plan (HB 305), approved by the House Commerce Committee, remains significantly different from a property insurance bill passed this month by the Senate. Lawmakers would need to reach agreement on a final version by the scheduled April 30 end of the legislative session.

Many lawmakers say they need to make changes because financial troubles are causing insurance companies to seek large rate increases and to shed policies. As a sign of the troubles, more than 120,000 policies have poured into the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. during the past year.

The House and Senate are looking to try to reduce insurance litigation, including by placing restrictions on attorney fees, and to curb what industry officials contend are questionable – if not fraudulent – roof-damage claims.

But the bills take different tacks, while lawmakers also face arguments that insurers are hit with lawsuits because they do not properly pay claims. During Friday’s Commerce Committee meeting, several Northwest Florida residents and attorneys described continuing problems with getting claims paid after Hurricane Michael, which caused massive damage in 2018.

“The bottom line is consumers who have paid premiums for over 30 years … aren’t being treated right,” said Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat who opposed the House bill.

But bill sponsor Bob Rommel, R-Naples, pointed to high litigation rates in Florida. He said bad insurance companies “need to be sued, but not every insurance company is bad.”

Rommel, who revised an earlier version of the bill before Friday's meeting, said the state needs to make changes to help attract more insurers to the state.

“Part of the problem here in Florida is we need more competition,” Rommel said. “We need more carriers.”

The 53-page bill, which was approved by the committee in a 14-7 vote, would make a series of changes. They include:

* Preventing contractors from soliciting homeowners to file insurance claims, including offering incentives to homeowners. That part of the bill is intended to curb roof-damage claims. It also seeks to prevent public insurance adjusters from offering incentives to inspect for roof damage.

* Allowing larger annual rate increases for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Such increases currently are capped at 10 percent, but that limit would be gradually raised to 15 percent.

* Taking steps to try to limit fees of attorneys who represent homeowners in lawsuits against insurers. That includes creating a formula that would look at how much money is awarded in court judgments and how much money was offered by insurers to settle claims before the lawsuits.

Amy Boggs, a plaintiffs’ attorney who represented the Florida Justice Association at Friday’s meeting, criticized the bill, saying it would create “brand-new hoops and hurdles” for homeowners.

“We are so strongly opposed to this legislation because it will hurt homeowners,” Boggs said.

But Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, said the bill could help “stop the bleeding” in the insurance market.

“I do think it’s going to stabilize the market,” DiCeglie said.

The Senate bill (SB 76) also targets attorney fees and would go much further than the House in addressing roof-damage claims.

The Senate would create what is described as a “reimbursement schedule” that would allow insurers to sell policies that would provide reduced payments for repairing or replacing roofs over 10 years old. For example, insurers could reimburse 70 percent of the costs for metal roofs over 10 years old and 40 percent of the costs for concrete-tile and clay-tile roofs.

The change would effectively shift more costs to many homeowners when they have roof damage.

News Service of Florida

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