Let 2019 be the Year the Legislature Puts Consumers Ahead of Trial Lawyer Scams

By: Mark Wilson

Right now, your state legislators in Tallahassee have an opportunity to lower the cost of living for Floridians. That’s good news for everyone, but it’s particularly good news for those living in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties that are artificially paying higher home and auto insurance rates than they should.

The reason rates are unusually high in the tri-county region is because Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties are at the epicenter of a home and auto repair abuse scheme that’s sending rates skyrocketing. It’s known as “assignment of benefits,” or AOB, and last year there were more than 135,000 AOB-related lawsuits in Florida – up from just 1,300 in 2000. The numbers are real and alarming.

AOB abuse rewards a few at the expense of many. It’s become a cottage industry for trial lawyers and shady contractors and vendors who roam neighborhoods looking for their next victims.

 

Here’s How It Works

A homeowner wakes up to a water leak in their kitchen and calls a plumber. The plumber encourages the homeowner to hire a vendor for clean-up and damage mitigation. Often secretly, the vendor pays the plumber a “referral fee.”

The vendor then asks the homeowner to sign some forms, saying that they’ll take care of everything including dealing with the insurance company. What the homeowner doesn’t know is their signature transferred all of the rights to their insurance policy over to the vendor who doesn’t have their best interest in mind.

Far too many homeowners are left with shoddy repairs or no repairs made at all, and then the vendor submits inflated repair bills to the insurance company – setting it up to deny the claim because of the overpriced bill. When the claim is denied, the vendor teams up with a trial lawyer to sue the insurance company in the name of the policyholder – without you ever knowing!

 

It Gets Worse

Florida law allows for one-way attorney fees, meaning the vendor’s lawyer gets paid if the insurer settles the lawsuit to avoid a costly legal battle or loses by as little as $1 in court. Bottom line: Vendors are incentivized to sue because they don’t have much to lose.

The AOB scheme didn’t exist until several years ago when a few creative trial lawyers discovered a loophole and started teaching vendors how to use AOBs to pad their profits. From 2008 to 2018, AOB lawsuits increased by over 900 percent, while total lawsuits in that same period increased just over 400 percent. Five firms filed more than 20 percent of all property AOB lawsuits, and even worse, nine firms filed nearly 85 percent of all auto glass AOB cases.

According to the Florida Justice Reform Institute, AOB lawsuits are growing much faster than the population, going from little more than a few hundredths of a point as a fraction of Florida’s population to nearly a full three-quarters of a percent now.

Eleanor Posner of Delray Beach can attest to how bad the problem is. She became a victim of AOB abuse following a water leak in her laundry room. A vendor charged her insurance company $12,000 for the water removal and drying, then filed a lawsuit when the insurer disputed the inflated amount. Because she signed an AOB, she was powerless to do anything about it and lived in fear of the vendor coming after her for the balance or placing a lien on her home.

 

Helping to Stop AOB Abuse

The Consumer Protection Coalition, spearheaded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, is leading the effort to help stop these abusive practices. AOB reform is vital to lowering the cost of living on families – Floridians that fill the jobs that keep our state’s economy growing.

We’ve joined in supporting AOB reform legislation in the Florida House and Senate – reform that the Wall Street Journal has for two years said is long overdue. Governor Ron DeSantis said recently he hopes lawmakers pass legislation to reform AOB, which has “degenerated into a racket.” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President and CEO Barry Gilway also have warned that something must be done to stop the abuse.

 

Floridians Supporting a Legislative Fix March to Capitol

Shoring up that support are the voices of more than 10,000 Floridians who have signed petitions calling on lawmakers to close the loophole that lines the pockets of a few trial lawyers while it harms everyday Floridians.

With hurricane season only a few months away, Floridians simply can’t wait any longer.

Join Us in Calling on Lawmakers to Make 2019 the Year AOB Reform Finally Passes

  1. Contact your Representative and Senators – encourage them to pass AOB reform (SB 122 & HB 7065).
  2. Sign the petition for AOB reform.
  3. Be the first to know when registration opens for the Florida Chamber’s annual Insurance Summit taking place November 2019.

 

PS: Earlier this morning, the Florida House took an additional step toward AOB reform when it passed HB 7065 out of the House Judiciary Committee. It is expected to be heard by the full House soon.

 

 

March 28, 2019