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Homeowners and auto insurance rates are going up – and here’s one reason
Jim Brandt, president, Sun Insurance Services
It’s a question we hear almost every day in our agency: “Why is my homeowners policy premium going up? There haven’t been any major hurricanes in Florida in years.”
It’s a fact—rates are going up for homeowners insurance. And for auto insurance, too.
There’s no single reason for the rate increases, but there is a big one: AOB fraud, or Assignment of Benefits.
A contractor knocks on your door. “Did you realize you have damage to your roof? I’m sure I can get your homeowners insurance to pay for a new roof. Just sign here and I’ll even cover your deductible. It’ll be totally free.”
Or, someone points out a small crack in your windshield or dent in your car door. “I can get that fixed for you and deal directly with your insurance company. No inconvenience on your part at all. Just sign here.”
For many Floridians over the past few years, the temptation has been too great to refuse. What could go wrong?
One of the biggest areas of fraud has been with water damage claims—leaky pipes, a sink overflow, damaged appliances, ruined flooring and furniture. But it happens with roofs, cracked driveways, and damaged cars.
Normally, you file a claim with your insurance carrier, the carrier pays you if the claim is approved, and you pay the contractor. If you sign an AOB form, your benefits go directly to the contractor. We’re all familiar with this system in the healthcare industry, by the way.
The problem arises when unscrupulous contractors overcharge for their services, or submit false claims on your behalf.
AOB abuse in Florida has skyrocketed over the past several years and as a result, rates are going up. Insurance companies are paying inflated prices for claims and huge litigation costs when they try to contest the claims.
A loophole in Florida law makes it easier for contractors and attorneys to collect. Florida’s “one-way attorney fee” statute is designed to protect policyholders but is being exploited by trial attorneys and contractors. The statute forces attorney fees to be paid by the insurer if a claim is found to be underpaid by any amount, even by $1.
If the insurance company wins the case, though, it must sue in court to collect attorney fees, adding to its legal costs. Hence the term “one-way attorney fees.”
We were hoping the Florida legislature would close the loophole this year, but it didn’t.
This is the fifth consecutive year that a bill on curbing AOB has failed.
I think everyone agrees insurance customers will end up paying for the legislature’s inaction.
Some experts are expecting Florida will face a property insurance affordability and availability crisis. I’ve seen this happen before in my 25 years in the Florida insurance industry, and I hope to never see it again. Rates go up, insurance is harder to get, and the real estate market stagnates.
No one wins.
Let us know if you have any questions. We’re always happy to talk insurance!