Tag Archives: Florida insurance statutes

Five Ways to Solve the Assignment of Benefits and Water Damage Restoration Insurance Problems

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

 

Overview

The assignment of benefits issue is still not resolved. While most people in the insurance industry just seem to spew anger about it, some are coming up with solutions. I’ll highlight a few of the potential solutions that have been raised.

Introduction

Imagine that you had an agreement with Ford for a Ford Fusion. You want a good car that works, looks good, and is durable. It’s a $21,000 car new.

Now imagine that Ford sends you a letter saying they assigned your financing agreement to Lincoln. In the letter, Lincoln tells you that they are giving you the Lincoln MKZ, a $36,000 car, and that you have to pay the difference.

Unfortunately, they are basically the same car. You voice your concern and refuse to pay almost twice as much for the same car. In response, Lincoln sues you.

Also, imagine that by law, if Lincoln wins the lawsuit, they can get hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees. On the other hand, if you win, the law says you don’t get anything.

That’s the problem Florida’s homeowners insurers face every day. State Representative David Santiago recently authored a scathing article in the Tampa Tribune: Home repair insurance claim fraud hammering Florida. According to experts, assignment of benefits claims are Florida homeowners insurers’ biggest cost driver.

We have heard a lot about the problem. Let’s discuss the solutions available!


Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook and Litigation Data Reports:

Before we go on, if you are in the Florida homeowners insurance claims industry and are looking for a guide with the key cases, strategies, laws, attorneys, and adjusters, or if you’re looking for Florida litigation data reports, please visit this page to learn more about our Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook.


Five Ways to Fix the AOB Problem

1. Write it Out of the Policy

One insurer is currently initiating this effort in Florida’s First DCA. Here is a link to that insurer’s Initial Brief on the issue:

http://johnsonstrategiesllc.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/11/Initial-Brief-Final.pdf

There’s no need to further analyze that option – the brief says it all.


2. Cut Out the Middlemen

If 10 people show up to work every day, 10 people expect to get paid.

That’s what’s happening here.

A plumber makes a repair. In exchange for a referral fee, the plumber recommends a water extraction company and maybe a public adjuster. To be “made whole” to use the phrase loosely, the extraction company needs to at least cover the deductible the homeowner is generally required to pay. Additionally, the public adjuster takes a large percentage of the claim proceeds for payment.

Then, if the insurance company refuses to pay the surcharge to this cast of characters for their involvement, the extraction company hires an attorney. The attorney then needs to obtain his or her maximum fee, which can range from 33% to 40% of the payout. Ultimately, for everyone to walk away satisfied, this team has to obtain a lot more than the cost to repair the damage.

That may not be what insurers should owe them, but the circumstances dictate that the best business decision may be to just pay it.

Insurers could circumvent this process by entering into managed repair agreements with or buying the largest plumbing operations and water extraction companies in the industry. For carriers paying $3,000,000 per year in referral fees and “waived deductibles”  this could be a worthwhile investment.


3. Use Data Analytics to Resolve these Cases More Efficiently

Forget about paying the plumber, public adjuster, and water extraction company for a second. Insurers also have to pay their staff and panel counsel millions of dollars per year to adjust and defend these claims.

If all insurers can do is save their cost of doing business, that still could result in good news. Reducing or eliminating insurers’ cost of doing business can have a huge impact on their bottom line. Insurers don’t need courts or the legislature to reduce their costs; all they need is to better understand what has already happened.

We already discussed the baseline amount of money that the cast of characters needs to break even. What if insurers just paid them that based on prior claim and case data? The insurers could save millions in loss adjustment expenses for their own staff and panel counsel. Hypothetically, the cast of characters’ break-even point would be decreased if less of them needed to be involved, such as the attorney.

Insurers could use data analytics to report on a variety of factors that impact settlement, including the public adjuster’s, water extraction company’s, and attorney’s settlement amounts in historical data. Insurers could also use data on prior damage estimates to reach benchmarks that insurers know these parties will accept as a settlement.

People may lie, but data doesn’t. If insurers want to know how to efficiently resolve the next claim or case, the first thing to do should be (but isn’t always) looking at how they have resolved thousands of prior claims and cases.


4. Pass a Law Banning Assignment of Benefits

Insurers, public adjusters, and other groups have joined forces to try to pass legislation to eliminate the assignment of benefits issue. This same group was unable to succeed the last time they tried.

As discussed in Home repair insurance claim fraud hammering Florida, these efforts are still in progress.

We at First Party Property Insurance Blog discussed the legislative efforts against assignment of benefits in this article:

http://firstpartyproperty.com/blog/the-policyholders-bill-of-rights-working-group-issues-its-final-report/

Based on what happened in the last legislative session, the people pushing these reforms are facing an uphill battle. Nevertheless, if it is possible for Florida to pass a homeowners insurance bill without loopholes, legislation has the power to close the door on assignment of benefits claims forever.


5. Defend All of the Cases and Take Them to Trial

This is not my favorite option, and I will tell you why at the end.

The option: turn off the faucet of money and see what happens. These companies and their representatives (adjusters and attorneys) may not have the financial stability to aggressively pursue these claims for years without being paid. That is something worth considering. Litigating is expensive. Cash flow is king.

Assignment of benefits contractors also have one disadvantage specific only to them. Regular homeowners insurance lawsuits involve a homeowner and damage to their home. Most juries are going to feel sympathetic for the homeowner. Most juries would want people to do the same thing for them if they were the homeowner that felt wronged by a big, powerful insurance company.

However, in a case where the assignment of benefits contractor is the plaintiff, juries are less likely to have that same empathy. If the juries think that both companies are being stubborn, they may be just as willing to side with the insurance company as they are with the water extraction contractor.

Further, homeowners insurers should be able to defend their position. The question will usually be “how much does it cost to repair a water damaged house?” With two companies battling it out (instead of one person versus a big company), insurers should be confident enough in their legal team that they can defend their coverage payment decision.

This option was the fifth option for a reason. I think it’s the worst option. Here is why:

  • Win or lose, the insurers will have to spend millions in legal defense costs, and they probably won’t be able to recover most of it;
  • If they lose, they not only have to pay their attorneys millions; they also have to pay millions to the plaintiffs’ attorneys; and
  • The difference between winning and losing in cases like these can be as little as $1.

Now you know why this is my least favorite option.


Conclusion

Cutting out the middlemen sounds like the most fun option; however, it sounds difficult to execute as well.

There is a clear winner here: Option 1. Amending the insurance policy is the least expensive of the 5 options. It also has the potential to completely resolve the issue.

So what if that fails? My second favorite option is Option 3 – Data Analytics. If you are a First Party Property Insurance Blog reader, then you know how strongly I believe in the power of business intelligence to change homeowners insurance litigation. If you are not an avid reader, check out my article for Claims Journal: Claiming What’s Yours: Why Homeowners Insurers Need Claims Litigation Analytics. Technology has changed everything else in this world. Why not us?

Today, both passing a law and trying all of the cases seems like too much risk for reward. The law could pass; however, contractors and their attorneys will likely find a loophole the first time around. Try reading the homeowners insurance statutes. Unless you have First Party Property Insurance Blog’s Annotated Homeowners Insurance Statutes Page saved in your browser, it’s very difficult for anyone to understand the laws without years of experience. As for trying all of the cases, I already explained all the risk involved. These options are not that exciting.

Again, I think amending the policy and data analytics are the ways to go.

If you have any questions about this article or anything else Florida homeowners insurance related, please contact me.

The Top Ten First Party Property Insurance Blog Posts

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook
Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

 

First Party Property Insurance Blog’s Top Ten Posts and Pages

1. Our Getting Started Home Page: we built this page a few months ago to help people navigate the Blog, and it was viewed over 8,000 times. If you haven’t seen it, it is by far and away the best way to navigate through the Blog and find what information you need.

2. Our List of the Biggest and Fastest Growing Florida Homeowners Insurers: viewed over 1,000 times during its limited time on the Blog. Surprisingly, most of the people we speak with did not pay attention to this; however, if you’re in this business, it’s the most important thing to know.

3. Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims for Water Leaks and Damage, and the Constant or Repeated Seepage Exclusion: viewed nearly 1,000 times this year. This massive post includes everything you need to know about the most popular coverage issue in Florida homeowners insurance claims.

4. A $7M Alleged Insurance Fraud – Espinosa Arrest Affidavit: approximately 1,000 times since being posted this year. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to publish any of the updates. Nevertheless, this post is by far and away the most entertaining post on the Blog.

5. Florida Homeowners Insurance Statutes: we had over 800 visitors view this page. It’s a page you must bookmark right now in your web browser. It’s the only easy way to find the Florida homeowners insurance statutes, and we included tons of additional content to help you, too.

6. Problems and Solutions for Assignment of Benefits Claims: nearly 1,000 people visited our site for analysis on the assignment of benefits issues, and this was the most popular AOB post this year. If we had the time, we would write a post on this issue every single day. This is such a hot topic right now. We encourage you to contribute on this issue by sending us information. If you want to guest post, we will gladly share it with hundreds of subscribers and thousands of readers, and we won’t hesitate to give you credit.

7. Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims for Hail Damage to the Roof – Article & Analysis: hundreds of people viewed this post from a few months ago. This is probably the second most controversial issue in the industry (behind the AOB claims issues). We would also welcome you to guest post on this issue; help our readers out; and give you and your company exposure.

8. Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims for Water Leak Not Excluded as a Matter of Law: hundreds of readers reviewed our detailed analysis on what could be the most important Florida homeowners insurance appellate decision of the year. If you haven’t read the case or my article and you’re handling homeowners insurance claims in Florida, then you’re committing malpractice. It’s an extremely important decision moving forward.

9. All of the Posts on the Citizens Sinkhole Settlements: here is a post on the most recent Citizens sinkhole settlement, and it has links to all of the other Citizens sinkhole settlements.

10. All the Posts on the Citizens Takeouts: here is a link to the latest post on this year’s Citizens takeouts. While reading that post, you can find links to all of the prior settlements.

If you have any questions about this article or anything else Florida homeowners insurance claims related, please contact us.


The Calm Before the Insurance Storm: What if Hurricane Wilma Made Landfall in Florida in 2015

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are looking for Hurricane Irma Florida insurance claims resources, click here.

Introduction

My Claims Journal series “Digitizing Claims Litigation: Providing Insurers with the Power and Control They Deserve” focused on the intersection of technology and property insurance claims.  In this article, I wanted to discuss more than technology and explore what could happen if a storm like Hurricane Wilma makes landfall in 2015.

Ask yourself: has anything changed in the past decade? We take a look at how indemnity exposure has changed; however, we really focus in on whether loss adjustment expenses would be any different, and we focus on whether the laws and technology have changed anything.

Hurricane Wilma only pummeled Florida for approximately five hours, but its legacy lasted another decade.  Nobody could have predicted that this storm would give rise to over a million insurance claims, and over nine billion dollars in damages.  Thousands Wilma claims were filed each year, and many were not resolved until just a couple of years ago.

Fast forward to 2015. Would anything be different if Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida today? It depends on what you focus on. A lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. Let’s explore the advances in two key areas: indemnity and loss adjustment expenses.

Indemnity

From an indemnity exposure standpoint, most of the developments since Hurricane Wilma have been positive.  Many of the traditionally hurricane-prone states have compiled financial protection against losses, including impressive catastrophe funds, effective reinsurance, and increased risk transfer to the private sector. Additionally, there has been a strong initiative to educate the nation about flood insurance.

All that being said, the stakes are still very high. Real estate growth is all over the coast, and so are our greatest potential losses. Studies suggest that a hurricane like Hurricane Wilma will still have the same or greater indemnity impact on insurers in 2015.

Accordingly, although we did not learn our lesson and continued to build in the most disaster-prone areas, we were lucky enough to have a long enough gap in hurricanes to save a good amount of money.

Loss Adjustment Expenses

In addition to the lost profit of indemnity, loss adjustment expenses also skyrocket following a hurricane. If a hurricane makes landfall in 2015, will loss adjustment be any less expensive than it was in 2005?

Legal Developments’ Impact on Loss Adjustment Expenses

Lawyers and lawmakers spent the last decade trying to respond to the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Although there were some positive legal developments, the legal framework is mostly the same.

Florida’s 90-day rule statutory amendment imposed a significant burden on insurers: try to pay all hurricane claims within 90 days after receiving notice of the claim. Further, there have been no changes to the attorney fee statute benefiting successful attorneys representing homeowners. That being said, the ensuing property insurance bills in Florida helped mitigate some of the expense risks. Some of the positive laws in Florida since 2005 include reduced time limitations for hurricane claims, and opportunities to offer modified percentage deductibles.

Meanwhile, in courtrooms across Florida, lawyers spent nearly a decade trying to iron out the parameters of coverage for hurricane claims. When the dust settled, not much had changed.  The vast majority of cases can result in expensive and risky jury trials.

Conclusion

If a large scale hurricane like Wilma makes landfall in 2015, insurance companies should be proud that they likely have the financial resources to help their insureds recover. Unfortunately, despite the ensuing technology revolution and all of the legal expenses incurred in the past decade, adjusting and closing these claims will still cost insurers the same amount it cost them nearly ten years ago. Although the lawmakers and lawyers could not make any monumental breakthroughs, the industry can hold out hope that technology is inches away from revolutionizing how we view hurricane risk.


Have Any More Questions about Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims?

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Citizens Offers to Settle Another 600 Sinkhole Cases with Marshall Thomas Burnett

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

Citizens made an offer to 600 of Marshall Thomas Burnett’s clients to resolve pending sinkhole lawsuits.  This follows the 300 offers to Thompson Trial Group’s clients, and the 300 with Boyette, Cummins & Nailos.



In the press release included below, you can see the process of how the proposed settlement will play out for the homeowners; however, the terms of the proposed settlement for attorney’s fees were not included in the release:

Download (PDF, 79KB)

In this article regarding the first of these group settlements, I outlined my analysis on why these settlements make perfect sense for everyone, especially Citizens.  By taking a top-down approach to these claims, Citizens was able to substantially reduce exposure while still giving the homeowners everything they needed.

The only question is “how to we get to these results one month after the lawsuit is filed, instead of after years of litigation?” As you know, my opinion is that software could have yielded the same results at a fraction of the costs.

In the press release, Citizens also stated it has approximately 2,000 sinkhole cases remaining.  As always, we will keep you updated.

Takeaway:

The billion dollar sinkhole claim industry keeps inching towards extinction.


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Florida Homeowners Insurance Analysis: Problems and Solutions for Assignments of Benefits and Water Remediation Companies

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

As we have said several times in the past here at First Party Property Insurance Blog, water damage claims are the most common type of Florida homeowners insurance claim.


Johnson Strategies once again delivered a fantastic post on the Florida Homeowners Insurance Industry.  This one is titled “Water Extraction: Florida’s Biggest Cost Driver?”

To summarize, Johnson delivers some terrific insight on how seemingly slight “tweaks” to an average water damage insurance claim payout can lead to hundreds of millions of additional homeowners insurer liability. In this article, Johnson also focused on how prevalent these “tweaks” are when the water damage claim involves a restoration contractor with an assignment of benefits.

As you know, in this article on Water Damage Claims, First Party Property Insurance Blog discussed various coverage issues with water damage claims. We also looked into Hail Claims, which make up a small but increasing share of water damage claims (not all hail claims involve ensuing water damage).  These two First Party Property Insurance Blog articles focused on coverage for these types of claims; however, Johnson’s article urges us to focus on the actual claim payouts when the claims are covered.

A Typical AOB Claim

As Johnson discussed, the Florida water remediation/restoration/extraction/assignment of benefits industry (yes, people use any and all of these terms to describe this industry) involves thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of fact patterns similar to this:

  • Plumber Repair: a homeowner calls a plumber to repair a water leak;
  • Referral: the plumber repairs the leak and recommends the homeowner contact a restoration company to make the repairs;
  • Assignment of Benefits (AOB): in exchange for doing the repairs at little or no cost to the homeowner, the restoration company requests the homeowner to assign the company the right to pursue the insurance claim against the insurance company (as assignment of benefits);
  • Damages Dispute: the restoration company and the insurance company disagree regarding the cost to repair the homeowner’s property, and the difference can be as little as $500 or as much as $50,000.00;
  • Lawsuit: the restoration company files a lawsuit against the insurance company and demands “proper” payment (as the restoration company sees it), and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs at the outset.

Although it may sound like a reasonable process, no one can deny that over the past few years these claims have skyrocketed without any objective justification.

If you are not familiar with how big of a role these claims play in Florida homeowners insurance, don’t worry, we got you.  Here is one of the most detailed reports on water damage claims from Citizens in 2012.  This will help you understand the sheer number of water damage claims Florida’s homeowners insurers face.

Download (PDF, 757KB)

The AOB Problem

A Few Hundred Dollars Here and There Adds Up

So why is this such an important problem?

Johnson Strategies estimates that this industry’s excessive charges for bursting pipe cases alone could cost insurers $150M per year. That does not include the actual extra repair payouts, public adjuster fees, plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, defense attorneys’ fees, and vendor fees. These amounts probably dwarf that $150M annual figure.

In addition, if you compare certain parts of Florida to other parts of Florida, this AOB process noted above is closely associated with an approximately $5,000.00 increase in costs per claim, and don’t compare Florida to any other state, because there is no comparison. In other words, this is a problem because for some reason Tampa and South Florida are the only targets.  The other areas must be doing something right.

Lastly, the article reminds us about what we learned from this video about AOB insurance fraud and how much insurance fraud could pervade this assignment of benefit process.

All of this suggests Florida homeowners insurers are losing control of their ability to efficiently resolve these claims.

Ultimately, the article concluded by urging the legislature to focus on fixing this problem.  As you may recall, the Homeowners Insurance Bill of Rights Working Group tried, but failed, to place strong prohibitions on assignment of benefits for insurance claims.

Lawyers and Courts are No Help

Lawyers and Courts have not systematically defeated this issue, but from what I hear, they are all going to keep trying.

Up until now, it has been tough for Florida’s homeowners insurers to commit to paying tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to try a case when they can settle it for less than $10,000.00.  As Johnson Strategies points out, this willingness to compromise has added up to millions upon millions in additional recovery for the restoration industry and its attorneys.

Why settle?  The better question today, in this current legal climate, is “why not?” If a Florida homeowners’ insurer has a good case it wants to try, it will have to spend at least $50,000.00 to try the case unless it is using our proprietary software CaseGlide, and even the best cases may not be enough to convince a jury more than 70% of the time.  If the jury finds that the homeowners insurer undervalued the claim by $1.00, the Court could have to award the restoration company’s attorney hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

In summary, you have two main contributors

1. the lack of any meaningful legislation,

2. the cost to defend these cases with routine and manual legal work, on a case-by-case basis, exceeds the cost to resolve them.

Conclusion

As Johnson Strategies said, until the legislation comes (if ever), Florida homeowners insurers must use their power to take control today.

Insurers should not lie and convince themselves that powerful global defenses suddenly exist. Insurers should not continue paying millions of dollars to create arguments that have no statistically-justifiable results. So long as the law and insurance policies are the way they are (as I understand them), most of these cases are going to have to go to a jury trial if the insurer wants to prove its case.

What can insurers control?  Their costs to get these results.  No matter what you hear, these claims and cases aren’t going away.  The only way to address them will be from the top.  Insurers must use their power to take control of this process by demanding efficient legal services that produce better results at a fraction of the costs.  Otherwise, their own attorneys – the people that should be on their side – become a contributor to their inability to resolve these cases.   Continually charging insurers more than the cost to settle a case will never be an effective legal solution, especially when the results aren’t even very good.

But even if the attorneys can come up with legal defenses to efficiently litigate these cases, homeowners insurers still need to use their power to take control of the legal process. Insurers, when that attorney comes down from the heavens with the perfect legal strategy to control these claims, don’t pay for that same motion 1,000 times, pay for it once … and automate it.  Again, use your power and take control.

Once Florida homeowners insurers (and not attorneys) take the power and control over these AOB claims and litigation, they will be able obtain the best possible results in every case while spending the least amount of money to do so.  Until then, things will remain messy and continue to get messier.

Takeaway:

Let’s share strategies on the assignment of benefits claims.  If you share your strategies, I will share mine and those that I have received. Together, we can break this process down to the critical path for our clients.



Have Any More Questions about Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims?

If so, please contact us.

Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Agrees with Thompson Trial Group to Settle 300 Sinkhole Cases

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

Sinkhole cases are that much closer to being done in Florida. Read this article to get the details on Citizens’s recent settlement with Thompson Trial Group.


According to a press release today, Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation reached an agreement to resolve 300 litigated sinkhole homeowners insurance cases with Thompson Trial Group.  The press release contains the relevant information, including the terms of the coverage and repairs, as well as the agreed payments to Thompson Trial Group:

Download (PDF, 81KB)

This follows a March, 2014 settlement of another 300 sinkhole cases I discussed here.

Florida is now one step closer to closing the door on the billions of dollars in losses for sinkhole claims over the past decade (or more); however, hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sinkhole claims remain pending in litigation. As always, I will update you when the next mass settlement occurs.


Did this Article Answer Your Homeowners Insurance Question?

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Florida’s Fourth DCA in Donovan v. Florida Peninsula Finds 2011 Statute of Limitations for Homeowners’ Insurance Claims is Not Retroactive

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

In Donovan v. Florida Peninsula, Florida’s Fourth DCA just issued a very important opinion for anyone unsure of the Florida statute of limitations for homeowners insurance claims.

If you have not seen them yet, you need to check out the two best pages on the site: the Florida Homeowners Insurance Statutes and the Property Insurance Blog Working Index.  Combine them, and they are a guide to handling any Florida homeowners insurance claim.


In Donovan v. Florida Peninsula, Florida’s Fourth DCA recently issued a short but informative decision clarifying the statute of limitations for Florida homeowners insurance claims.  Donovan’s case involved a 2005 insurance claim for hurricane damage.

The question was whether the 2011 version of Fla. Stat. 95.11(2)(e) applied to Donovan’s claim.  The claim occurred and was reported to Florida Peninsula before the statute of limitations was amended. Florida Peninsula asked the Court to retroactively apply the 2011 statute of limitations to Donovan’s lawsuit.  Donovan claimed that the statute was not retroactive and, as a result, she was only required to file the lawsuit within 5 years of Florida Peninsula denying the claim (which would have given her until basically the date of this article to file the lawsuit).

In 2011, Florida’s legislature changed the statute of limitations (or statute of repose) to require the homeowner to file a homeowners insurance-related lawsuit within 5 years of the date of loss.  Prior to this amendment, Florida courts would give the homeowner five years from the date that he alleged the breach of the contract occurred.  In other words, according to the old statute of limitations, the homeowner could presumably wait 10 years to report a claim and it would not be limited because he actually had 5 years from the date the claim was allegedly denied or underpaid (of course, the prompt notice provision would prohibit that claim).

The Fourth DCA determined Fla. Stat. 95.11(2)(e)‘s 2011 statutory amendments did not apply to Donovan’s claim.  Thus, Donovan did not breach the statute of limitations because she did not have to file her lawsuit within 5 years of the date of loss.  Donovan had 5 years from the date Florida Peninsula breached the contract to file the lawsuit.

In addition, the Fourth DCA determined that a trial court should not dismiss a lawsuit for breach of the prompt notice provision.  As you know if you read First Party Property Insurance Blog, the question of late notice cannot be determined at the pleadings stage.

If you want to see my other articles on hurricane claims and homeowners insurance, make sure to check out:

What You Need to Know About Handling a Florida Homeowners Hurricane Insurance Claim

What Hurricane Wilma Insurance Claims Taught Us for the 2014 Hurricane Season

Remembering the 2004 Hurricane Season and Looking Ahead to 2014

Here is a copy of the Donovan v. Florida Peninsula opinion here:

Download (PDF, 191KB)

Takeaway:

This is not rocket science.  If you are going to pay attorneys millions of dollars to litigate for you, take 5% of the time expended to build simple systems to help you achieve better outcomes while spending the least. There is no reason that every attorney handling a case for a carrier should have to analyze the statute of limitations issue “from scratch.” This is a simple question requiring a simple “check the box” answer for each case.

If you want a copy of a guide that streamlines all routine questions like these, please message me.


Did this Article Answer Your Homeowners Insurance Question?

If not, please contact us.

What You Need to Know About Handling a Florida Homeowners Hurricane Insurance Claim

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are looking for Hurricane Irma Florida insurance claims resources, click here.

Overview:

After 2014’s first hurricane, Hurricane Arthur, its important for Florida homeowners insurers, claims adjusters, and attorneys to remember how to handle a hurricane insurance claim. It has been years since we have dealt with the aftermath of a hurricane here in Florida; therefore, I wanted to take this opportunity to recap what everyone will need to know when the next hurricane hits Florida.


Any questions?

Please contact us.


 

In this article, I will address the issues of (1) trying to promptly handle a hurricane insurance claim; (2) the more common reasons why a Florida hurricane insurance claim may be denied; and (3) why homeowners and insurers may dispute what the proper claim payment should be.

As always, I would love feedback on your experience or if you have any questions.  If you have any questions or comments about hurricane insurance claims, please do not hesitant to click on this page to find out how to contact me, or you send me a confidential message in the form below.

Issue #1: Quickly handling hurricane insurance claims will be tough for the homeowners and the homeowners insurers

First, lets remember how chaotic it will be for Florida homeowners and insurers to start and finish the hurricane claim process.  If a hurricane makes landfall in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, or the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, each homeowners insurer could receive tens of thousands of claims.  Even in less populated areas, a hurricane could really tax a homeowners insurer’s ability to promptly evaluate and pay claims.

Homeowners will face challenges as well.  Homeowners may be without power and unable to use their mobile phones for days.  In addition, homeowners may not have the money to stay in a hotel while their homeowners insurers process their claims.  Homeowners will be demanding immediate conclusions; however, they will have to understand that most homeowners insurers will be doing their best to quickly close claims.

Ultimately, homeowners insurers will multiply their staff to respond to these claims, but homeowners will have no choice but to be persistent and patient.  Technology has changed a great deal since Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida in 2005, so hopefully Florida homeowners insurers will be less reliant on humans doing routine processing tasks to investigate and close claims.  Although Todd Legal’s software focuses on promptly and efficiently resolving litigated cases (after the claim process fails), Florida homeowners insurers can use less customized software for processing claims quickly and properly.

A hurricane will separate the strong and smart Florida homeowners insurers from the weak and ill-prepared.  It will be interesting to see which homeowners insurers invested in smart processes over the past 8 years, and which insurers are still stuck in 2005 … or even worse.

The Rules: What are the rules on the timing of processing a hurricane insurance claim?

The Florida statutes require homeowners insurers to promptly respond to homeowners’ efforts to communicate.  In addition, unless there is something outside of the insurers’ control stopping them from making payment, the Florida statutes require insurers to pay or deny each claim within 90 days of the date the claim is reported.

For more information on these rules, please check out my list of the Florida homeowners insurance laws here.  If you want to learn about how Todd Legal, P.A. uses project management and automation software to streamline the implementation of these rules, then please contact me using the information on this page or you can submit a confidential message using the contact form at the end of this article.

Issue #2: Is the hurricane insurance claim covered or should it be denied?

Second, Florida homeowners insurers have to determine if the homeowners’ claim is covered.

Why wouldn’t a hurricane insurance claim be covered by a homeowners insurance policy? There are at least four reasons: (1) the damage is caused by flooding not covered by the homeowners insurance policy; (2) the homeowner failed to promptly report the damage to the insurer; (3) the damage pre-existed the hurricane; and (4) the damage was caused by the constant or repeated seepage of water and not a sudden burst of water into the property.  In the subsections below, I provide you with a summary of how each of these issues can arise in a hurricane insurance claim.

1. Wind versus Flood Damage:

The most common issue with homeowners insurance coverage for hurricane claims is whether (1) flood OR (2) wind-driven rain caused the water damage to the house.

Most Florida homeowners insurers do not cover flood damage; therefore, if flooding caused the damage, then homeowners will need to submit that claim to their flood insurer.  As you know, this issue could get tricky.  If a hurricane destroys a roof, water seeps in through the roof, and that water damages the house, then that damage should be covered.  If that roof and rain event happen AND flooding from the street also damages the house, then the homeowner may be faced with one of the most difficult insurance coverage issues there is: what caused the damage – wind versus flood.

Currently, it appears that some Florida areas would apply one standard to determine coverage – the concurrent cause doctrine.  Meanwhile, other Florida areas would use another standard – the efficient proximate cause doctrine.  This means that one Florida court may think your claim is covered if flood and wind-driven rain caused the damage, but another Florida court may not.

If both wind-driven rain and flooding caused the damage, then Florida courts using the concurrent cause doctrine may determine the damage is covered by your homeowners insurance policy. If the same thing happened in an area where courts apply the efficient proximate cause doctrine, then there would be homeowners insurance coverage if the wind-driven rain caused more damage (or was a stronger force) than the flooding.

Ultimately, this is a very complex issue and one that even Florida’s best courts disagree on.  In addition, the insurance policy may have certain terms that change the way these doctrines could apply to your claim. So, if you are brave enough to want to know more about these doctrines, I have a very detailed but easy-to-understand article on it here.

2. Late Notice:

Another reason a homeowners insurer might deny a homeowner’s claim for hurricane damage is that the homeowner failed to quickly report the damage to the insurer.  This type of claim is known as a late notice claim, and is probably the second most likely reason for a hurricane insurance claim denial.

How could this happen?

Believe it or not, as I wrote about here, tens of thousands of homeowners reported Hurricane Wilma damage years after it occurred. How could you not notice a claim or not report it?  Some homeowners might say that they did not notice a roof leak until it the water made its way to a visible area.  In addition, some homeowners may simply not understand homeowners insurance coverage but, years later, someone may explain to them that their old roof leak may have been covered by insurance.  In some circumstances, some homeowners may be lying about newer damage to try to get insurance proceeds for long term damage that may not be covered by insurance.

How late is too late?  There is no 100% clear answer, but there are some things you must know.

According to the prompt notice provision found in all homeowners insurance policies, homeowners must promptly report damage to their homeowners insurer.  “Prompt” does not have a specific definition, so each case will be considered separately.  There are dozens of Florida cases on the prompt notice provision, and I have analyzed several of them here.  In addition, I have written a very detailed article here that discusses how Hurricane Wilma became famous for claims reported years after the damage occurred.

Why is there a prompt notice provision? Homeowners insurers need to investigate any claim (whether it be a hurricane claim, sinkhole claim, hail claim, or a plumbing leak claim) claim as early as possible so that they can:

(1) make sure it is covered;

(2) properly determine the cost to repair; and

(3) have the chance to minimize the damage.

If a homeowner fails to promptly report a claim and the insurer is prevented from doing any of these three things, the insurer may deny the claim for the homeowner’s failure to comply with the prompt notice provision.

In addition to the prompt notice provision’s unclear deadline, Florida homeowners insurers also have a law that provides a strict deadline for reporting hurricane insurance claims.  Years after 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, in 2011, Florida passed this law that requires homeowners to report hurricane claims to their insurers within three years of the hurricane making landfall or the damage occuring.  This means that, if a hurricane made landfall in August of 2014, homeowners would not be able to report a claim for that hurricane in September of 2017.

Importantly, this 3 year deadline does not mean that homeowners no longer need to abide by the prompt notice provision.  After a hurricane, smart Florida homeowners should promptly hire a professional contractor or other professional to inspect their house.  If they find damage, then they should immediately report that claim to their homeowners insurer.  If years pass before a homeowner discovers the damage, then the homeowner should not be surprised if the homeowners insurer denies the claim.

3. Pre-Existing Damage

This is a simple issue.  A homeowner may report damage that occurred prior to the hurricane.  They may do so because they did not notice the damage, or they may intentionally try to defraud the homeowners insurer.

How can a Florida homeowners insurer know if damage pre-existed the hurricane?  The insurer may have photographs of the house from before the hurricane.  The insurer may also review records from the purchase and sale of the house.  In addition, the insurer could send a records request to local building agencies with information regarding the home’s damage history.  If a homeowner reports pre-existing damage to an insurer, then the insurer may deny the claim using the pre-existing damage exclusion, the policy period provisions, and, potentially, the concealment or fraud provisions.

4. Constant or Repeated Seepage:

If the hurricane causes a long term water leak that occurs for weeks or months (instead of a sudden burst of water that immediately damages the house), then a homeowners insurer may deny the claim using the constant or repeated seepage exclusion found in almost all homeowners insurance policies.  The constant or repeated seepage exclusion is a very complex issue – there are few cases on it, and there are dozens of different variations of the exclusion depending on the policy’s year and the homeowners insurer that wrote the policy.

If you want to know more about how a homeowners insurer may deny a claim for long term water damage, then please check out my article on the constant or repeated seepage exclusion here.  I also have many articles on water damage claims in general, and you can check these articles out here.

5. Conclusion on Coverage Issues:

Claims adjusters and management should not wait until the hurricane hits to make sure that they are ready to handle the onslaught of claims and cases that will follow a hurricane in Florida.  Todd Legal, P.A. offers project management and automation software that will make claims and case decisions smarter, cheaper, and quicker.  Todd Legal, P.A. embeds the recent legal changes into your case handling software so that you do not need to repeatedly educate your staff about top-down best practices.  In addition, Todd Legal, P.A. substitutes software for people when routine processes can be done faster, better, and cheaper.

If you want to know more about how Todd Legal, P.A.’s claims and litigation software can make the difference between your insurance company failing or prevailing after the next hurricane, please contact me using the information on this page or send me a confidential message in the form at the end of this article.

Issue #3: How much should the homeowners insurer pay the homeowner for the damage?

Third, if the Florida homeowners insurer determines the claim is covered, then what does the insurer have to pay the homeowner?  If a Florida homeowner disagrees with the homeowners insurer’s payment amount, how do you know who will end up being right?

As you know, after a homeowner reports a claim, the insurer will have an adjuster or contractor inspect the home, determine what is damaged, and prepare a repair estimate.  For example, if the hurricane damaged the roof and rain seeped through to the living room ceiling only, then the homeowners insurer may only provide coverage for the cost to repair the ceiling.  Usually, the adjuster or contractor will submit his or her estimate to someone at the homeowners insurance company, and the homeowners insurance company will use that estimate to determine how much it will pay the homeowner.

Here is where a dispute may arise: the homeowner may hire a public adjuster or contractor who determines that a roof leak also reached the walls in the living room, even if the damage is not visible.  The public adjuster or contractor may claim that, to repair the walls, the baseboards will need to be removed.  The public adjuster may claim that, if the baseboards are removed, then the flooring needs to be replaced, too.

Meanwhile, the homeowners’ insurer may not know why its adjuster or contractor did not include the walls in its estimate.  Was it because there is no damage?  Was it because the adjuster missed it?

Even if the homeowners insurer’s adjuster or contractor identified the wall damage, they may disagree that the baseboards and floors need to be replaced.

Some other examples of common hurricane insurance claim payment disputes include:

(1) if a tile is damaged by the hurricane, does all of the tile in the entire house need to be replaced? (see my articles on tile damage here);

(2) if the kitchen cabinets are damaged, can the homeowner repair the cabinets by refacing them or does the homeowner need to completely replace them?; and

(3) even if the hurricane leads to covered damage inside the house, was the roof already damaged from a prior event and not by the hurricane … and, therefore, is the cost to repair the roof not covered?

As you can see, reasonable minds might differ regarding how hurricane insurance damages should be repaired.  Using the homeowners insurance policy’s Loss Settlement provision (click here to read a helpful article on this provision), the homeowners insurer may ask the homeowner to try to repair the property with the funds paid and then notify them if those amounts are not sufficient.

Although there is no definitive Florida law on what is the proper cost of repair under all of the different circumstances above, it will be important for both the homeowner and the homeowners insurer to work together to try to make the repairs.  Otherwise, one party may use the other’s lack of cooperation as a basis for a lawsuit or a defense.

As a side note on hurricane insurance claim payments, homeowners should also be aware of their deductible.  For hurricane claims, the deductible could be much higher than they expect.

Conclusion

That’s a lot of information to learn or remember about hurricane insurance claims.

Some of you may remember all of these issues from when you were an adjuster, claims manager, or homeowner handling hurricane damage claims and cases.  For those people, I hope this refreshed your memory on some of the common issues and led you to ask yourself how you can be more prepared when the next hurricane makes landfall in Florida.  As you might recall, there were many twists and turns, and everyone should be more prepared to handle the next hurricane.  For those of you experienced with hurricane homeowners insurance claims, you will probably know that the issues I talk about in this article are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Adjusters and claims management, I welcome you to reach out to me to discuss how we can use software, project management, and automation to make sure that the next hurricane goes as smoothly as possible. There have been several changes in the law and several changes in your policy.  You are reading First Party Property Insurance Blog, so you probably know about the laws and provisions that apply to a hurricane insurance claim; however, not everyone at your company may be ready.

Todd Legal, P.A. is here – not to simply assist you, but to lead the way in making sure you and your homeowners insurance staff are not stuck in 2005.

Some of you, however, may be new to the Florida homeowners insurance world and have no experience handling a homeowners insurance claim.  After all, if my math is correct, it has been nine years and eight hurricane seasons since the last hurricane – Hurricane Wilma – made landfall in Florida.  For those people, you better educate yourself on the Florida hurricane cases, laws, and insurance policy provisions.

If you are an adjuster, attorney, or homeowner and you have not taken a few hours (homeowners) or days (adjusters and attorneys) to make sure you understand how the new laws and policy provisions should be used for the next hurricane, then you will be in for a big and costly surprise.

As I have mentioned throughout this article, if you have any questions about hurricane insurance claims, litigation, or anything else related to homeowners insurance, I would love to hear from you.  You can contact me by clicking on this page and using the information there, or you can send me a confidential form submission using the box at the end of this article.

Takeaway:

Like any claim, a hurricane claim can be broken down into a scope of work. You can supervise/adjust these claims the old fashioned way, or you can supervise claims and cases using software that automates the checklist nature of a cases like these. Don’t just hand claims and cases off without a structured system for evaluating and communicating the key information.  If you are interested in learning more about checklists and software for supervising hurricane claims, please message me.


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What Hurricane Wilma Insurance Claims Taught Us for the 2014 Florida Hurricane Season

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are looking for Hurricane Irma Florida insurance claims resources, click here.


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Overview:

Although it has been eight full hurricane seasons since Hurricane Wilma, we can still learn lessons about how the next Florida hurricane could impact Florida’s homeowners insurance industry.

Hurricane Wilma was one of the most powerful storms ever.  Within 24 hours of becoming a hurricane, Wilma intensified to winds of 185 mph. By the time it reached Florida, its wind speed dropped to 120 mph; however, that drop in windspeed did not correlate to a drop in damages.

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By the time Hurricane Wilma passed, Florida suffered approximately $20.6 billion dollars in damages. Hurricane Wilma left 98% of South Florida without power.  These approximately 6,000,000 people would go on for 8-15 days without any power. Ultimately, this 2005 storm was the fifth costliest storm in United States history.

Florida’s homeowners insurers responded to record claim numbers.  In response to the more than 1 million property insurance claims, Florida homeowners insurers paid out more than $9.2 billion dollars.

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Hurricane Wilma made landfall one year after the famous 2004 hurricane season, when three powerful storms ravaged Florida.  Unlike the 2004 hurricane claims, though, Hurricane Wilma claims would continue punish Florida’s homeowners insurers for years to come.

The Biggest Surprise

From the insurance claims perspective, Hurricane Wilma’s biggest surprise was that it kept generating claims for several years. Unlike any prior hurricane, Hurricane Wilma produced tens of thousands of supplemental, reopened, and late hurricane damage claims.

In these claims, which lasted through 2010, homeowners or public adjusters would notify homeowners insurers that there was damage or that more damage had occurred.  In other words, despite Hurricane Wilma making landfall almost nine years ago, homeowners insurers have only gone a few years without handling hurricane insurance claims. Some insurers claimed that homeowners requested the reopening of 25% of the claims they previously believed were resolved.

As a statistical example, in the year of 2010, Citizens received approximately 600 Hurricane Wilma lawsuits and another 645 Hurricane Wilma claims.  In the homeowners insurance industry, this lag time is what Hurricane Wilma will be remembered for.

Late Notice of Hurricane Claims

In the process of dealing with these very complex insurance coverage issues, Florida courts issued libraries of rulings that carved out new homeowners insurance law.  As you know, First Party Property Insurance Law Blog previously discussed several Hurricane Wilma cases from 2012 and 2013.  In those cases, courts were faced with determining whether a homeowner, in 2008 or 2009, could report a homeowners insurance claim for Hurricane Wilma.

As you also know, the courts never provided a hard line on how late is too late for insurance coverage.  Although there was a statute of limitations, the vast majority of the cases involved claims that did not violate the statute of limitations. Instead, they were cases where the homeowners insurers were concerned that they could not tell whether the reported damage was from Hurricane Wilma, another storm, or wear and tear.  Instead of saying something to the effect of “notice is late when it is received three years after the hurricane,” Florida courts addressed each case’s expert testimony and other evidence. Ultimately, this issue led to the legislative changes discussed below.

Preparing for the Next Florida Hurricane

For those of you getting ready to handle claims this 2014 hurricane season, you need to know how the law has changed.  The most important statutory amendment is:

  • homeowners now have only three years from the date of the Hurricane’s landfall or damage to report the claim to their homeowners insurers.  Fla. Stat. § 627.70132.

So instead of eight or nine years of claims and litigation, Florida homeowners and homeowners insurers can expect the next major hurricane to generate perhaps four or five years.  If the next Florida hurricane makes landfall in a populated area like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, or Tampa Bay, then homeowners insurers can expect at least 1 million claims, as we saw with Hurricane Wilma.

Armed with the case law and statistics from Hurricane Wilma, adjusters and attorneys should be ready to apply what they learned for the next hurricane. Homeowners insurers will undoubtedly take more precautions during the initial inspections to try to limit the need for supplemental and reopened claims.  Public adjusters and homeowners’ attorneys will expedite their reinspections to ensure their clients don’t miss out on additional available coverage by failing to report it within three years. Lastly, everyone now knows it will take several years, not months, to put the next hurricane behind us.

Takeaway:

Unless insurers have new systems in place, the next hurricane will be just as tough on insurers as the last one.  My fear is that insurers still handle claims just like they did in 2005 – manually.  For those insurers that understand that technology has changed in the past nine years, we legal technology innovators are here to help with automated legal documents, data analytics to predict settlement, and structured project management software to reduce costs.  For those insurers still doing things the old fashioned way, call us when you need power and control over escalating legal fees and poor outcomes.

If you want more information on legal checklists and guides to prepare for hurricane season, please message me.


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Remembering the 2004 Hurricane Season and Looking Ahead to 2014

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are looking for Hurricane Irma Florida insurance claims resources, click here.

Any questions? 

Please contact us.


Overview

Let’s not only think about what the 2014 Hurricane season may bring. Let’s also remember that this is the ten year anniversary of the most memorable hurricane season ever.


hurricane

This photograph is from this fantastic Palm Beach Post story that inspired this article.


Remembering 2004

Before we talk about what could happen in 2014, can you believe it is the 10 year anniversary of the most notable hurricane season ever?

Ten years ago, in 2004, Floridians experienced these four powerful hurricanes and their landfall windspeeds and locations:

  • Hurricane Charley: 145 mph, landfall in Fort Myers
  • Hurricane Frances: 105 mph, landfall in Stuart, Port St. Lucie, and Jensen Beach
  • Hurricane Ivan: 130 mph, landfall in the Panhandle
  • Hurricane Jeanne: 120 mph, landfall in Stuart, Port St. Lucie, and Jensen Beach

The hurricanes ravaged Florida, from Key West to Pensacola.  As a former Stuart, Florida resident, I can remember what it was like to clean up after not one, but two hurricanes in a few weeks.  Never in Florida’s history have we seen that many punishing hurricanes in one season. Sadly, 125 Floridians reportedly passed away because of the four storms.

And the economic damages from these storms were earth-shattering:

  • Hurricane Charley: $14 billion
  • Hurricane Frances: $4 billion
  • Hurricane Ivan: $5-$15 billion
  • Hurricane Jeanne: $6-$8 billion

Ten Years Later

Ten years later, the 2014 hurricane season started June 1st.  The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.  Who would have ever predicted we would go another eight years without a hurricane?

Since 2005, resinsurance rates have dropped.  As a result, Florida homeowners insurers are more financially prepared for this hurricane season than any before.  Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund has accumulated $13 billion, and Citizens has a $7.6 billion surplus.

As First Party Property Insurance Blog discussed last month, the Weather Channel forecasters predict 11 named storms this season.  Of the 11 named storms, Weather Channel predicts that five will become hurricanes and two will shape into major hurricanes.

According to forecasters, Floridians should stand to benefit from an El Nino pattern that will hold the number of storms below average.  Nevertheless, 80% of Florida’s residential and commercial property lies in vulnerable coastal areas.  These properties are valued at $3 trillion.

Ultimately, as the Tallahassee Democrat points out, hurricane predictions are more “guesses” than “predictions.”  As we all found out from Hurricane Sandy, all it takes is one major storm to cause nightmares and cost billions.

One thing we can all agree on: nobody wants another 2004 Hurricane Season.


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