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Small Claims And Scammers Causing Insurance Rate Hikes

5/31/2013

By Matt Horn, WCTV Tallahassee; WJHG News Channel 7, Panama City

Hurricane Season officially starts this weekend, and even though it’s been almost eight years since a storm has hit the state; the cost of homeowner insurance has increased nearly 17-percent because every day losses.

Since the last hurricane hit Florida, homeowner’s rates have gone up by just under 10 percent. For condo owners it is 21 percent. Ratings expert John Rollins says hurricanes aren’t the only driver of higher costs. “Fire, water damage, vandalism, theft, smoke, explosions, these things we think of as common perils,” he said.

Thursday morning, just days before the start of hurricane season, Fidelity Property and Casualty were asking for a 28-percent rate. Deputy Insurance Commissioner Belinda Miller says setting rates is a delicate balancing act. “We need capacity in a way that treats consumers fairly and that results in them having insurance on their property when they have a claim and need it,” she said.

Fidelity wouldn’t talk with us on camera, but they said the reason they are looking for a pay increase to be profitable so they can pay out claims after the next storm hits. But Florida’s Consumer Advocate says what you pay is often driven by people scamming the system. “Many consumers get caught in the middle of people making repairs and for the bill being more than what the insurance company thought it should have been,” said Robin Westcott, Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate.

The economy is also a factor. “There’s an age old adage that says: ‘once the economy goes sour, insurance claims go up. It’s almost a direct correlation,” said Lisa Miller, insurance consultant.

Legislation signed by Governor Rick Scott this week creates a clearing house to help consumers find cheaper rates, but hurricane season will likely be over before the clearinghouse is up and running.