As Floridians continue to rebuild after Hurricane Irma, a new consumer alert warns against bad actors trying to rip off homeowners seeking repairs from the storm.
A joint effort of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, the one-minute consumer alert hitting airwaves Friday is alerting homeowners about falling victim to assignment of benefits (AOB) lawsuits.
Assignment of benefits is a document allowing third-party contractors – water extraction companies, roofers, plumbers and the like — to “stand in the shoes” of the insured to receive payment directly from the insurance company for work performed.
Although AOB is a widespread practice in health insurance and similar industries, Florida’s litigious environment emboldens unscrupulous parties to inflate bills and file frivolous lawsuits over small, simple (or even accepted) claims.
This abuse results in higher insurance rates for everyone.
“Florida trial lawyers and unscrupulous contractors are scamming millions, while homeowners are left with skyrocketing insurance premiums and shoddy or even incomplete repair work,” the alert warns. “One study shows Miami premiums could jump more than 50 percent in five years if the state Legislature doesn’t end the AOB lawsuit scam.”
Nearly nonexistent 15 years ago, AOB lawsuit fraud has now spread across Florida – with many homeowners holding the bill on these ‘get rich quick’ schemes from what the Chamber refers to as a “cottage industry of trial lawyers and shady repair vendors.”
As Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson points out: “This is a clear example of lawsuit abuse at its worst. It’s driving up the cost of homeowner’ insurance rates, and is one of the reasons Florida has the fifth worst legal climate ranking in the country.”
“Florida’s legislature should stop dubious vendors and plaintiffs’ lawyers from raiding the ‘assignment of benefits’ cookie jar. Florida homeowners face skyrocketing insurance costs because of such abuse, and the legislature can provide meaningful relief by adopting sensible reforms,” adds Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
Both the Chamber and its Consumer Protection Coalition are calling on the Florida Legislature to “pass meaningful reforms” in 2018 to stop AOB abuse.
The need for an alert came after last week when the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation approved a statewide average increase of 6.6 percent for homeowners’ policyholders in Citizens Property Insurance Corp. In the tri-county area of South Florida, average rate increases are even higher in an area where AOB abuse is the worst.
In South Florida, those average rates have inched up to the maximum 10 percent increase allowable by state law for Citizens’ policies.
The alert will air for the next several weeks ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 9.