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Florida property insurance bill stalls on limits for public adjusters

TALLAHASSEE — A major property insurance bill is mired with time running short in the legislative session.

The most recent sticking point is the ability of public adjusters to handle property insurance claims for homeowners.

SB 2044 would reduce the time frame a homeowner can file or reopen a claim from five years to three years after the storm and puts strict new limits on public adjusters' compensation and ability to solicit claims.

State insurance officials and industry advocates blame public adjusters for making bogus claims for damages and driving up the cost of hurricanes, which is shared by policyholders statewide.

In particular, the legislation's supporters point to the recent $710 million bond for the state's hurricane fund, which needed additional dollars to cover losses from Hurricane Wilma five years ago. The bulk of the new claims, state officials said, were reopened at the urging of public adjusters, which numbered 700 three years ago but now top 3,000.

"I believe this bill is necessary because there are some segments of this profession that are totally out of control," said Rep. Janet Long, a St. Petersburg Democrat and former state insurance official.

But public adjusters suggest they are being unfairly targeted by insurers who want to limit the scope of a homeowner's policy.

"It's going to hurt their ability to press claims and limit the time to file claims," said Ben Alvarez, a claimants attorney. "It's going to have a chilling affect on the Florida consumer."

Public adjusters groups assert that the main provision to reduce the time frame for filing a claim is unworkable because some damage, such as mold, doesn't appear until much later.

The legislation tries to rein in public adjusters by limiting their advertising by prohibiting them from using the words "no risk" and making claims about "offering monetary or other valuable inducement."

It also requires them to add a disclaimer to any advertising that if policyholders are satisfied with an insurance company's payments "you may disregard this advertisement."

The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate, where a last-minute amendment with significant changes is likely to slow the bill. If the new language gets added, it would need to go back to the House, where the schedule on today's final day is full and another lengthy debate is inevitable.

Florida property insurance bill stalls on limits for public adjusters 04/29/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 29, 2010 10:07pm]
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