A case challenging a new Florida property insurance law brought by a Hillsborough County construction company has made its way to federal court.
In the case, heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker Friday, Gale Force Roofing and Restoration, LLC, argues that the new measure violates the First Amendment. As of Saturday morning, Judge Walker has not posted a ruling to the court docket.
In June, the company filed the suit to challenge a part of the law made to prevent contractors from advertising to encourage property owners to file roof-damage claims, arguing that this violates free speech protections.
Lawmakers passed the measure at the end of April in an attempt, supporters argue, to address increasing property insurance rates. Proponents of the bill argued that questionable roof-damage claims had played a major role in driving up costs.
The bill (SB 76), sponsored by Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd, sought to crack down on contractors who press customers to make unnecessary repairs and charge insurance providers. It also looked to reduce attorney fees associated with challenged claims that land in court.
In the lawsuit, the Gale Force Roofing and Restoration said it advertises inspections of storm damage to roofs, which it can no longer do under the new law, considered “prohibited advertisement.” The law took effect July 1.
The company also claims in the suit that the law is aimed at reducing the number of insurance claims filed, not at addressing fraud.
But attorneys for state Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Julie Brown — the defendant in the case — disputed that the law’s restrictions violate First Amendment rights.
The filing said, for example, “targeted digital advertisements or emails, door hangers, or brochures handed out in person are prohibited if, and only if, they encourage a homeowner to make a roofing-insurance claim. Radio and television advertisements are allowed because they do not target a ‘specific person.’”
The filing also said Florida has a “compelling state interest” in ensuring that homeowners are protected from skyrocketing insurance rates and have access to coverage. The document said fraud by contractors drives up costs.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.