Legislature went too far to help insurers

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on March 25, 2023.

OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature’s laws giving insurance companies and businesses added protections against lawsuits will hurt too many Florida residents.

By now the Florida Legislature will likely have passed House Bill 837 and Senate Bill 236 which cover how plaintiffs can recoup losses from insurance companies.

Everyone saw this coming. Florida’s insurance companies — the ones who have not fled the state — have complained for years they are going broke because of bogus claims for roofs, windshield damage to cars and lawsuits to collect damages.

On the other side of the issue is trial lawyers who say if the Legislature passes laws like House Bill 837 and Senate Bill 236 it will put a chill on legitimate claims and lawsuits, and especially force hardships on low or fixed-income Floridians.

Unfortunately, no one is fighting for us. Victims of Hurricane Ian who are still waiting for insurance checks, are left blowing in the wind with no powerful lobby to represent them in Tallahassee. And that is the problem.

Lawmakers were expected to approve bills by Friday making it more difficult to sue insurance companies to collect claims. The legislation is lauded as a life raft for struggling insurers who are being forced to leave the state because of a flood of lawsuits — some of them bogus — and hundreds of thousands of claims from 2022 hurricanes.

We certainly see insurers’ dilemma. We’ve written in the past about the number of homeowners who, with the help of shady roofing contractors and lawyers, took advantage of the law to get new roofs — which much too often were not needed. And there are other instances of insurance companies electing to pay claims instead of going to court because of the cost involved in resolving a suit.

We fear, however, that lawmakers have gone too far trying to help insurers and entice other insurance companies to come to Florida. The fact Florida needs more alternatives for homeowners insurance is a given. Citizens United, the supposed insurer of last resort that is backed by state funds, is drowning in applications for insurance from homeowners who have been dropped or who cannot afford the latest premium hikes.

Under the new laws, as we understand them, if you file a lawsuit to recover damages that are not being paid, you’re responsible for lawyer fees — which could eat up a good portion of any money recovered. There are also limitations on attorney fees and a reduction on the statute of limitations for filing negligence claims from four to two years.

All of this will make it more difficult for local people like those profiled on today’s front page story in The Daily Sun to collect money and have enough to repair all their Hurricane Ian damages.

We found it almost comical that even former President Donald Trump took a swipe at the Legislature (and Gov. Ron DeSantis who could be his opponent in presidential primaries) when he called the legislation “the worst insurance scam in the entire country.”

Margie and Don Cochran, of North Port, are still trying to collect enough money to repair their manufactured home. She said they have dealt with a different adjuster almost every time they call their insurer and, after six months, nothing has been repaired.

Margie Cochran claims damages to her $224,000 home amount to about $144,000 and she has received a check for only $6,600 so far.

She and her 73-year-old husband have retained an attorney.

In today’s front page article, Fort Myers attorney Michael Beckman said the new laws are “…basically, a bill to help insurance companies keep more money and make it hard to make claims against them.”

His summation is accurate enough. How much that will help in the long run to lure more insurers here and lower premiums won’t be known for years.

Meanwhile, too many people are waiting to have a new roof put on, drywall replaced, windows and doors put back on.