Friday, January 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Keep close eye on Citizens' legal deal

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.

Comments
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18