Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier issued a warning to residents facing damage from Tropical Storm Gordon be careful and to make sure they fully read and understand any documents they sign in Gordon’s aftermath. Altmaier has been an outspoken critic of the ongoing assignment of benefits abuse happening in the state of Florida.
Many insurers throughout Florida have been seeing an uptick in litigation due to the inflated and fraudulent claims stemming from unlicensed contractors who have homeowners sign over their insurance policy rights in exchange for needed repairs to their homes.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis also issued a warning to consumers to protect themselves against fraud and has activated the Florida Department of Financial Services Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team (DFAST) for the 2018 hurricane season.
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On Wednesday, September 5, 2018 the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that assignment of benefits (AOB) without all insureds’ and mortgagees signatures are unenforceable. The appellate court found no problems with an insurer requiring consent from all insureds and mortgagees, which is good news at a time when AOB abuse is such a big issue in Florida.
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The Florida insurance industry is hoping to put an end to its AOB crisis with education. Barry Gilway, president, CEO and executive director of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. says the key to slowing Assignment of Benefits (AOB) abuse in Florida is for the insurance industry to link AOB to its impact on the consumer and the premiums they are paying.
Insurance carriers from across the state have seen an increase in litigation due to AOB lawsuits from homeowners who work with unlicensed contractors who file inflated and fake claims on their behalf. According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, AOB lawsuits in Florida have increased from 405 to 28,200 between 2006 and 2016 with South Florida being the worst region for this issue.
Florida insurance industry leaders are hoping for a legislative fix with the new Senate leadership coming in next year.
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According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Timothy Matthew Cox, owner of Nationwide Catastrophe Services, Inc. and Restoration Response Services, Inc., has been arrested for an alleged Assignment of Benefits (AOB) fraud scheme, stealing nearly $140,000 for home repairs due to tropical weather events that he never provided. Cox’s scheme impacted 19 homeowners throughout Florida and Texas, leaving the victims’ homes to sustain additional damage from other tropical weather events, including Hurricane Irma.
Cox’s team never started any of the work they were contracted to perform on the 19 homes after receiving insurance payments. He was arrested and booked into the Polk County Jail facing multiple counts of grand theft and racketeering. Cox could face up to 30 years in jail.
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Florida House of Representative, John Tobia of the 53rd district, has introduced CS/HB 669 which addresses consumer issues related to “Assignment of Benefits”. The bill is still alive after a hearing on March 19, 2015 in front of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee. The bill addresses insurance-claims issues regarding AOB’s dealing with property insurance. An AOB occurs when a policyholder has a loss and signs a contract with a third party to reconcile the damage. Once the AOB is signed the contract allows for the third party to be assigned the proceeds from the homeowner’s insurance policy. AOB’s are currently a hot topic with property insurance carriers and for years have been the keystone of PIP/No Fault Litigation.