Insurance bill eases deadline on claims

Article Courtesy of The Pensacola News Journal

By Paige St. John
Published March 23, 2007


TALLAHASSEE -- An insurance bill surfacing in the House nibbles away at consumer provisions gained during the January special session.

"I don't like it," said Rep Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee. "We're back to the industry writing our law."

Still, Richardson and House Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council members Thursday approved the committee bill that eases deadlines on insurers to pay claims.

It also excludes condominium residents and small business owners from consumer provisions passed just six weeks ago, including company report cards and the ability to buy a policy without hurricane coverage.

The Legislature's insurance bill created in January "was primarily supposed to be focused on the homeowner," said Council Chairman Ron Reagan, R-Sarasota.

In special session, lawmakers applied their changes to all property insurance policies. Reagan said the council is now providing "distinct definition as to what our focus was."

But after complaints raised Thursday, Reagan said he will seek to restore some of those protections to condominium dwellers and small business owners.

Though it is called a glitch bill to fix small problems with the January legislation, the proposal creates new law. For instance, it would require insurers to check at least every five years to make sure they are giving homeowners adequate credit for windstorm protection.

At the request of the insurance industry, it removes a requirement that insurers pay property claims within 90 days of being notified. Instead, it allows insurers to wait until 90 days after "proof of loss," a step Reagan conceded varies from company to company. Some, he said, don't consider a "proof of loss" is final until the day they issue the check.

He vowed to find a better definition.

"Our intent has been and will be to get homeowners, residential people, that claim payment in 90 days' time," he said.

The bill also eases the penalty for an insurer who misses those deadlines, limiting sanctions to regulatory action only. Trial lawyer lobbyist Reggie Garcia pointed out that would prevent homeowners from taking their insurer to court for violating the deadline.

"It's a substantial rewrite and a substantial retreat" from the special session legislation, Garcia said.

Lawmakers said Florida's insurance market is still coming to terms with widespread changes made in the January special session.

"It's hard to do a glitch bill before the dust has settled," said House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber.

At the request of the building industry, the bill gives contractors an extra five months to continue opting out of mandatory door and window protection on coastal homes. They can until then choose a cheaper option of internal strengthening.

The Office of Insurance Regulation opposed a provision excusing insurers from newly mandated rate cuts if they bought their reinsurance coverage before the January law took effect.

"That means the benefit will be deferred. Some consumers won't see it until 2008," said agency lobbyist Abby London.