We recently breathed a collective sigh of relief as Hurricane Idalia skated by, leaving our area largely unscathed. Still, some area homes suffered storm damage. Lucky to have escaped the worst of a hurricane, these unlucky homeowners are the first to navigate claims under the recent changes to Florida’s property insurance laws.
Senate Bill 2-A, passed during a special session last December, was sold as an effort to combat fraudulent claims and reduce premiums. Instead of signing a law designed to help Floridians, this legislation only serves those who write the campaign checks – the insurance companies.
Since the passage of Senate Bill 2-A, almost no one has seen a decrease in their property insurance rates. In fact, rate increases of 5% to more than 50% are common. The insurance industry cites fraudulent claims and excessive litigation as the justification for SB 2-A. They support the notion that SB -2A is a panacea for problems that befall the industry. However, insurance companies and lawmakers fail to consider that SB 2-A is unfair to homeowners.
SB 2-A reduces the filing deadline from 2 years to 1, and the time frame in which to file supplementary claims from 3 years to 18 months. People who have lost homes or suffered damage deal with emotional trauma while rebuilding their lives. Time moves quickly when you’re trying to secure temporary housing, replace lost belongings, and determine how to pay for it all.
If you end up having to file a suit against your insurance company for failure to pay your claim, SB 2-A removes your right to compel the insurance company to pay your attorney fees for filing that suit, even if you prevail.
If you’re struggling to understand how this is legal, consider this example:
Your house floods, which severely damages your furniture. You’ve made a timely claim, and produced proof that it will cost $10,000 to purchase new furniture. The insurance carrier either ignores the claim or refuses to pay for the replacement furniture, forcing you to file a suit. You go to trial, and the court rules that the carrier should have paid the claim and awards you $10,000 in damages, the cost to replace your furniture.
But now you must pay your attorney $10,000.00 in fees. Before SB 2-A became law, the insurance carrier who refused to pay or ignored your claim would be required to pay attorney fees, plus the $10,000.00 awarded in damages for furniture replacement. Now, under SB 2-A, you are responsible for paying attorney fees, and using this example, would be left with nothing to buy replacement furniture.
Will SB 2-A meet its goal of reducing the number of claims and lawsuits filed? Absolutely. Many property owners will miss the deadline to file their claims. If forced to choose between filing a suit and possibly winning, but having no money to replace belongings, they’ll forgo a lawsuit to instead pay to replace their items.
Whether it’s due to the Tocobaga Tribe blessing the land they inhabited in our area in the 900s, or luck, we continue to escape the worst devastation from hurricanes. What we can’t escape is lawmakers’ refusal to prioritize people they serve over corporations that help elect them.