Sunday, November 19, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Keep close eye on Citizens' legal deal

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The Florida Legislature created state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to serve property owners who couldn't find coverage elsewhere, but also to ensure the vitality of the state's real estate market. Now a $6.5 million contract with an outside legal firm that developed a one-size-fits-all sinkhole settlement strategy raises questions about whether the company will try to close off avenues of redress for customers. Given the insurer's recent back-door rate increases and takeout campaign, Citizens customers have reason to be leery, and lawmakers should be watching. • The Citizens board voted 4-1 last week to hire Ackerman, Link & Sartory P.A. of West Palm Beach for three years to handle all its claims litigation — from sinkholes to other property claims. The contract comes as the law firm's previous $1.5 million contract with Citizens was exhausted as it worked to develop a sinkhole settlement strategy.

Citizens announced the Ackerman strategy earlier this month, saying it was mailing settlement offers to all sinkhole claimants proposing to directly pay contractors to fix the problems — with multiple caveats. Customers would have to drop litigation, absorb legal bills and fees, and accept Citizens' preferred repair method of putting grout or pressurized cement in the ground. Some homeowners don't like that procedure, favoring methods such as pinning, or driving steel pins deep into the ground. This conflict came to light most recently in Dunedin when a sinkhole opened up under a Citizens-covered home where cement was being pumped in the ground after the owner finally acquiesced to Citizens' repair plan.

Yet even before this firm's prescriptive solution to sinkhole claims has had time to be implemented, Citizens is doubling down, hiring the same firm to develop settlement strategies for other kinds of claims and to eventually train Citizens staff to handle the claims in the same vein.

To be sure, Citizens needs a cost-effective method for dispensing of frivolous or fraudulent claims. And its track record on settling valid claims needs work. But the challenge remains to ensure that in the process, Citizens' customers don't see their options unduly proscribed. Citizens may be the insurer of last resort, but that should not mean it has the right to run roughshod over customers who have paid a premium for protection they may now find harder to collect.

Citizens officials say the new strategy will allow them to save as much as $97 million in future legal defense fees, and they claim a statewide, uniform approach to cases is needed.

That may be a good business decision, but it remains to be seen what it means for consumers and their right to the insurance protection they have paid for. If Citizens goes too far, the Legislature should step in.

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Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/17/17

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17