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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, May 18, 2022 6 months ago

MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS: A call for courage

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When Florida lawmakers convene on property insurance, they will confront the biggest economic challenge in state history.
by: Guest Writer

By Sen. Jeff Brandes
Florida District 24

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proclamation in April calling for a special legislative session on Florida’s homeowners insurance market to begin next week was a significant first step in the right direction for Floridians and the state’s economy. He chose strong language to identify and describe the priorities we, as Florida legislators, must address on behalf of all Floridians. 

This is the biggest economic challenge in the state’s history.

Sen. Jeff Brandes is a Republican serving Florida Senate District 24, encompassing St. Petersburg and much of south Pinellas County.

Property insurance affects everyone — homeowners, commercial owners, renters, resort guests, farmers, etc. But because of a highly coordinated network of a few lawyers and contractors, they have helped shape and used current laws to their advantage to make it impossible for insurance companies to offer reliable and affordable coverage.  

Let’s be clear: The current property insurance crisis, as noted by Gov. DeSantis, is not, as some will claim, a war between consumer protection champions (plaintiff attorneys) and insurers with Florida citizens helplessly caught in a legal crossfire. Florida citizens and insurers are the pawns and targets, respectively, in a carefully planned and executed assault. 

We have seen this movie before. In the film series, “The Matrix,” a network of soulless machines force feed an alternate reality to humans while using the population as their source of energy. In Florida, a network of unscrupulous contractors, public adjusters and attorneys is  using property owners as a means of gaining access to their homes and insurance policies. Once they have gained consent from an unsuspecting individual property owner, the same network then weaponizes a short list of statutes, several unique to Florida, at the expense of all Floridians.  

This is why Florida has the dubious distinction as having 79% of all property insurance lawsuits in the nation while having only 9% of the nation’s insurance claims.

To restore Florida’s homeowner’s insurance market, Florida lawmakers must change the statutes serving the greed of a select few who are taking an estimated $4.2 billion annually from Florida citizens via legal fees and unnecessary construction costs, according to independent research.

Florida homeowner insurers were served more than 107,000 lawsuits in 2021 alone, compared to approximately 27,000 suits filed across the remaining 49 states. Florida has nearly four times the number of homeowners insurance claim disputes than all other states combined.

On a per capita basis, Florida contractors and plaintiff attorneys file one suit for every 205 people, while other catastrophe prone states such as Texas and California experience one suit per 10,300 people. 

The damages sought in 2021 through this process of manufacturing disputed claims topped $7.8 billion. What’s more, the annual year-over-year growth rate of manufactured litigation has exceeded 25% four of the past five years.

As a result, insurance companies cannot continue to operate in Florida.

Readers should note that nearly 100% of all rate increases paid by Florida insureds over the past 24 months flowed through, not to, insurance companies and into the pockets of litigious third parties. In fact, the average Florida-based homeowner’s insurance company faces $1.45 in expenses for every $1 it receives in premiums.

Research also has proven many Floridians, despite being named as the party initiating these disputes, don’t know they have engaged a lawyer, much less are participants in a scheme of manufacturing claims. What has become Florida’s “litigation economy” operates for the exclusive benefit of fewer than 100 lawyers  at the expense of the rest.

The state’s insurance crisis is of such a scale that even the most aggressive solutions imaginable only will slow down, at best in the short term, and possibly mitigate against future rate increases. It is a certainty this issue will need constant revisiting.  

The time is upon us to convert the economic disaster back into a consumer-focused residential insurance market, to change the incentives away from lawyers to a market that fosters competition and free enterprise that benefits consumers. Florida must get on a sustainable long-term path to sound insurance practices.

Gov. DeSantis has shown courage throughout his term on many issues. This is another one. It is imperative Florida lawmakers show the same courage in the upcoming special session. I humbly ask my legislative colleagues to unite in service of the Governor’s challenge and in service of all Floridians.

To do otherwise would be economically devastating for all Floridians.

Sen. Jeff Brandes is a Republican serving Florida Senate District 24, encompassing St. Petersburg and much of south Pinellas County.

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