The 2014 Florida Legislative Session and the Insured Property Owners Bill of Rights Legislation
As we approach the midpoint for this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee, things are not looking good for a key piece of legislation championed by Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater. Briefly, his push for a policyholder’s “Bill of Rights” came out of a number of formal meetings chaired by the then DFS consumer advocate. The meetings were held by an eclectic group of stakeholders who had an interest in the adjusting process ostensibly to air issues that policyholders were complaining about following a loss.
I had the opportunity to watch some of these sessions online and felt that all the folks did a very good job presenting their thoughts, questions and concerns. I was particularly pleased to see President Handerhan of the Florida Association of Public Adjusters (FAPIA) in attendance and thought he did an excellent job representing the Florida public adjusting community.
As a result of these meetings, a bill was drafted and introduced in the legislature to correct some players’ misconduct and ultimately provide written information to the insured policyholders at their time of loss explaining their rights under the insurance policy they purchased.
There are too many issues to go into here, but one seemingly holding up the legislation has to do with the assignment of benefits controversy which centers on repair and restoration contractors and the clause written in their service contracts that basically turns over all insurance claim money to them.
It seems no one is in disagreement that a good number of firms (not all) in the insurance restoration field are abusing this clause that hijacks the policyholder’s insurance policy and in effect steps in the place of the insured policyholder for unjust financial gain and in some minds actual fraud. The insurance industry and its lobbyists are up in arms over this and State Farm Florida lobbyists have said if the assignment of benefit issue is not reformed, they will not return to Florida with their property insurance division. The lobbyists for the contractors are on the other end of the spectrum and want to keep the assignment of rights in their client’s contract. If some compromise is not reached between the Florida Senate and House bills, the Policyholder Bill of Rights will likely fail, according to Chief Financial Officer Atwater.
In an article published in the Sarasota Herald (3/29/2014) Chief Financial Officer Atwater goes on to say that “he is pushing this bill in reaction to thousands of calls his office receives from consumers confused about how to file a claim when their home is damaged by a storm or fire.” He goes on to say that the “legislature has given consumers specific rights over the years, but consumers don’t have a bookshelf at home with these statues. They are not conversant in this.”
My take is that there is nothing wrong with an insurance policyholder Bill of Rights, but we already have bad faith provisions in this State and as Atwater says, there are statutes on the books. In my opinion, what really is needed is boots on the ground. The state currently licenses public adjusters who are conversant in the claim process. It seems to me the State should help the consumer by making them aware of the experienced and trained resources that can really make a difference with their insurance claim, including public adjusters who pay their license fees annually and comply with continuing education requirements. Let us know what you think.