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Chip Merlin: The fight for policyholder rights

“Essentially, the 60-day requirement is a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the wrongfully acting insurer.”

Slow paying, wrongfully denying and underpaying insurance companies need to be held accountable when they break the law.

Insurance is one product all Floridians purchase which results in so much anger when it comes time for the insurance company to fulfill its end of the bargain — full and timely payment with no hassle.

Florida legislators are currently proposing laws which make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to hold these wrongfully acting insurers responsible for their actions. Our own legislators are listening to insurance company lobbyists and lawyers rather than their own common sense and constituents.

Proposed laws by state Reps. Alex Andrade, Holly Raschein, David Santiago and Sen. Jeff Brandes are bad public policy because they make it harder for Floridians to stand up to insurance companies that harm them.

They are trying to change long-standing laws in place since 1982 that will provide more loopholes for insurance companies to break the law and get away with it.

The current law passed in 1982 is already a gift to the insurance industry.

Even if the insurer company breaks the laws regarding “good faith” adjustments, a consumer first must file a notice with the Department of Financial Services. The insurance company then gets 60 days to pay the contract damages. If it does, the policyholder still cannot bring suit for the damages caused by the wrongful conduct.

Essentially, the 60-day requirement is a “get out of jail free” card for the wrongfully acting insurer. But, the current proposed legislation provides even greater loopholes that only an insurance company lawyer could dream.

So, Florida currently has a very balanced and conservatively written pro-consumer law which has stood the test of time and does not need to be changed unless our legislators were to simply do away with the 60-day notice and allow a policyholder who has been damaged a right to seek redress immediately.

It is hard to imagine that Florida’s legislative leadership, knowing that all areas of our state are subject to severe Hurricane devastation, would foster laws which harm their own constituents and allow insurance companies to break laws and regulations.

Insurance companies have ethical requirements to treat us in “good faith.” What good are these laws, regulations and ethical requirements if we cannot hold them accountable when they break them?

Unfortunately, the insurance industry has an army of lobbyists in Tallahassee while consumers have few.

Our legislators are supposed to be there making laws for people and our businesses. The only business that these proposed laws help is the insurance industry business.

So, we need to fight for our rights as policyholders.

Medical, auto, life, homeowner, business and boat policyholders need to let our legislators know to vote “no” to any change of the law which makes it even slightly more difficult to hold insurance companies accountable.

They should vote no to House Bills 751 and 301 and vote “no” to Senate Bill 1464.

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Chip Merlin is founder and president of the Merlin Law Group.

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