BY STEPHANIE COUEIGNOUX ORLANDO UPDATED 3:31 PM ET FEB. 12, 2021 PUBLISHED 2:34 PM ET FEB. 11, 2021
PALM BAY, Fla. — Ronald Twing says retiring to Florida was always the plan.
“This was a dream of ours probably since our 40s. We were moving to Florida,” said Twing.
That dream came true after Twing and his wife bought a home in Palm Bay, but it’s a dream that came with an unexpected cost when he received his latest homeowners’ insurance premium estimate.
“I was astounded and frustrated. I’m going like, how can you justify a 115% increase on a policy?” said Twing.
Twing is far from the only homeowner with sticker shock.
“We are seeing door-to-door solicitation of homeowners throughout Florida, but particularly in Central Florida. It has been rampant over the past couple of years. As a result, that’s driving the number of claims, that’s driving lawsuits when there are disputes between the contractor and insurance company,” says Mark Friedlander, the director of communications for the Insurance Information Institute.
Friedlander says these contractors or roofing companies are promising to help homeowners get new roofs for the price of their insurance deductible. When they go up on the roof they may find some issues, but then claim the whole roof needs replacing.
Friedlander says this is allowed because of legal precedent.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2018, 45,000 lawsuits were filed in Florida against insurers. That number is projected to jump to 150,000 for 2020 and to more than 200,000 in 2021.
“You’ve got insurers who are sinking financially. We’re talking well over $1 billion in underwriting losses for insurers who write primarily policies in Florida,” said Friedlander.
Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, points to two other problems: under current law, Florida homeowners have three years to file a claim. And then there’s what’s known as a contingency fee multiplier, which allows an attorney in Florida receive up to three times his or her regular fee in such cases.
“That all goes in the pocket of the law firm. That doesn’t go to the property owner. That goes all to the attorneys,” said Sabatini.
Attorney Amy Boggs, who is also the chair of the property insurance section for the Florida Justice Association, has a different view. She believes the focus should be on roofing companies involved in fraudulent claims.
“Take those cases to trial. You’ve got fraud? Great. Get a zero verdict. Get a few of those and the attorneys who are doing that are going to stop,” said Boggs.
Three bills set to be introduced during the upcoming Florida legislative session look to tackle these issues: HB 305, SB 212 and SB 76, which reforms attorney fees in property insurance cases.
“I think you’re going to see double digit rating increases until we pass massive tort reform in the state,” said Sabatini.
According to data Spectrum News obtained from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, in the first nine months of 2020, insurance companies requested dozens of double-digit increases, many of which the state approved.
An FOIR spokesperson said litigation and more hurricane-related claims are causing premiums to rise, telling Spectrum News in an email: “The Florida insurance market is one of the most complex in the world.”
At Ana Regina Myrrha’s insurance agency, double-digit increases led her to hire an additional employee just to handle clients looking for lower premiums.
“It’s like a perfect storm. Everybody is going through financial situations and now you have this hitting you as well,” Myrrha said.
When asked whether capping how much insurance companies can raise premiums could help, Friedlander said while that sounds good, it’s not that simple.
“It’s reaching a point where insurers can go insolvent. They’ll just go out of business. And that will do further damage to property owners in Florida because now they’ll have less choices,” said Friedlander.
It’s a possibility Ronald Twing hopes lawmakers and the insurance industry can work together to avoid.
“I worry about the people that are in a situation who can’t afford this. What is going to happen to these people?” asked Twing.