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Troubled Waters panel wades into divisive insurance fight


Date: June 14, 2016
Source: Palm Beach Post
Author:  Charles Elmore


The CEO of one of Florida’s 10 biggest property insurers told a forum in Boca Raton Tuesday that inflated water-damage claims are “morally wrong” and hurt all consumers by raising rates, while an attorney accused insurers of crying wolf about the latest “crisis” that serves their own needs.

More than 100 executives, attorneys, contractors, consumers and others came to the Troubled Waters forum. South Florida is ground zero in the fight over what insurers say is their biggest problem this side of a hurricane: inflated costs for non-storm claims like plumbing leaks.

The gathering assembled by Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’Ron James met at Florida Atlantic University with the aim of gathering information that can help legislators and regulators come up solutions after years of conflict and stalemate.

“This is not a victimless crime,” said Paresh Patel, CEO of Tampa-based insurer Homeowners Choice. “We have to figure out a way to protect the many from the actions of a few.”

About 38 percent of his company’s 157,000 policies are in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but 88 percent of its lawsuits come from the region, he said.

Much of the trouble starts when consumers, alarmed to discover a roof or plumbing leak, call a company to clean up, insurers say. When handed forms to sign, they may not realize they are signing over control of insurance benefits to a clean-up contractor, repair company or other third parties — and attorneys tied to the parties can become involved and drive up costs further by going to court, insurers say.

Restoration and cleaning company owner Dave DeBlander of Pensacola spoke about insurers who fail to respond quickly when consumers need help or refuse to put small companies like his on lists of “preferred providers” insurers urge consumers to use, no matter how many awards he wins for good service.

Attorney Lee Jacobson of Orlando cited examples of record profits at insurance companies he said are “crying wolf” to force changes in laws or regulations that can restrict the rights of consumers to ultimately get full and fair payment of claims, he said.

Much of the debate is expected to focus on the rules insurers, contractors and others must follow. Homeowner Eleanor Posner of Delray Beach said she felt pressured to sign over control of insurance benefits to a contractor she called to clean up a plumbing leak. The contractor charged $12,000 for services her insurer said should have cost $3,000, she said.

James said she hopes to begin arriving at some early policy recommendations by the end of summer.