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Assignment of Benefits Key Issue for 2019 Session

January 16th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Insurance companies are butting heads with contractors and consumers are stuck in the middle.

It’s a battle over an option that allows people to sign their policy over to repair companies and who pays for the attorney’s fees.

Insurance industry insiders wrapped up a two day long summit in the state’s capitol Wednesday.

One of the top issues: Assignment of Benefits.

It allows people to sign away the rights to insurance proceeds to contractors, who then take over and negotiate with the insurance company.

“When you turn over your rights under your policy to a third party they then have the ability to file a claim on your behalf, they can seek damages from your insurance company on your behalf,” said Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. “They can do all of these things without your knowledge and often times it can lead to an excessive amount of litigation.”

The cost of that litigation falls on the insurance company.

Current law requires insurers to cover the cost of the policyholders attorney, or in the case of an assignment of benefits agreement, the contractor.

Tasha Carter is the Director of the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services.

She told us about a case following Hurricane Michael where a contractor used the protection to over charge for services.

“$18,000, just to place a tarp on their roof,” said Carter.

Those cases often lead to legal battles, that insurers credit for driving up rates for consumers.

A bill already filed for the 2019 session would remove insurer’s responsibility to pay attorney’s fees in disputes brought by contractors, but keep protections for lawsuits brought by policy holders.

However, Jeff Grant, owner of Bone Dry Reconstruction told us in 2017, if contractors are responsible for covering the cost, they’d be vulnerable to abuse from insurers.

“It’s pure economics for the insurance company,” said Grant. “If they can save $50 doing the wrong thing, then they’re going to try to save $50.”

That could make contractors more hesitant to take risky jobs, leaving consumers between a rock and a hard place the next time a major storm hits the state.

Legislation to address assignment of benefits issues have been brought up for at least the past five years. It’s yet to be seen if this year’s attempt has the support it needs to make it to the finish line.

The Restoration Association of Florida and a coalition of contractors issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling on the Governor to hold insurance companies responsible for paying out claims for Hurricane Michael damage.

The Association says insurance company’s lowball payouts are to blame for increased litigation.

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