(The Center Square) – An insurance reform package affecting more than 6 million Florida homeowners was adopted by House Wednesday three weeks after it was approved by the Senate.
But the version of Senate Bill 76 advanced in a 74-43 House vote includes significant changes that will require Senate endorsement of the amended bill just two days before the 60-day legislative session ends Friday night.
As adopted April 7 by the Senate in a 27-13 tally, SB 76 contained several controversial provisions, including allowing roof insurance cover the cash value of roofs, not full replacement costs, and reducing the time to file claims from three years to two.
Those remain in bill, but the SB 76 adopted by the House would also lift the 10-percent cap on Citizens insurance rate increases and addresses attorneys’ fees differently.
Sponsor Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, an insurance agent by trade, told Florida Politics Wednesday he supports the Citizens’ amendment.
Boyd said the bill may undergo further revision, but will be adopted by Friday. “We still have some work to do in order to enact reform that will lower rates,” he said.
Florida’s businesses and 6.2 million homeowners are seeing — or will see — double-digit rate increases as high as 45 percent in property insurance premiums as insurers cite ballooning reinsurance costs, “loss creep” from 2017-18 hurricanes and coastal flooding among factors driving costs.
Insurers also uniformly insist excessive litigation plays a significant role disrupting the state’s property insurance market, even after lawmakers adopted a 2019 reform measure.
An Insurance Information Institute report documents lawsuits against Florida property insurers increased from 45,000 in 2018 to 150,000 in 2020, with roof-related claims increasing from 27,000 in 2013 to 85,000 in 2020.
The instability threatens the financial viability of approximately 60 independent private insurers operating in Florida’s property insurance market,abandoned early this century by large insurance corporations.
SB 76 reforms include slashing the time policyholders have to file claims from three years to two, reductions in attorney “multiplier fees” and allowing insurers cover only depreciated value of roofs more than 10 years old instead of full replacement costs.
Under an attorneys fee amendment passed Wednesday, if a judgment obtained by the claimant in a settlement offer — excluding “reasonable” attorney fees and costs — is less than 20 percent of disputed amount, each party pays own attorney fees and costs.
If claimants’ attorney fees are 20-to-50 percent of a judgment obtained in a settlement offer, insurer pays claimant attorney costs “equal to the percentage of the disputed amount obtained times the total attorney costs.” Any more than 50 percent, insurer pays claimant full attorney costs.
The amendment “makes sure lawyers get paid fairly, but not abusively,” said Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who carried SB 76’s House companion, referring to a state Office of Insurance Regulation study documenting Florida accounts for 7 percent of the nation’s property insurance claims but 77 percent of its property insurance-related lawsuits.
The amendment allowing Citizens to raise rates annually more than 10 percent is a concession that, with private rates increasing 20-45 percent, the state-subsidized insurer is too good a deal for Florida taxpayers to subsidize
Citizens, a non-profit created by state lawmakers in 2002 to provide insurance to homeowners unable to acquire coverage, reports its policy count grew by more than 100,000 in 2020, topping a half-million for the first time since 2015, and expects up to 650,000 enrolled by December 2021.
In early 2021, Citizens said enrollment was growing by 2,000 to 3,000 a week. Rommel said it’s now 5,000 a week.
“It’s the fastest-growing insurance company in America,” he said. “Except, it’s not really an insurance company – it’s the state of Florida.”