Thursday, February 22, 2018
Editorials

Fix hurricane mitigation system

But for a small business entrepreneur in South Florida willing to take on big government, the public might never have known that the state has failed to ensure that homeowners who strengthen their garage doors against hurricanes receive the insurance discounts they are entitled to under law. A recent administrative court ruling in Jack Stumpff's lawsuit against the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has exposed a basic flaw in how the state implemented hurricane mitigation laws more than a decade ago, and it could impact the premiums paid by thousands of homeowners.

While insurance regulators have acknowledged a need to fix the problem, they have appealed the administrative judge's ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The only thing more galling than a decade of missed discounts is if the state drags its heels on doing right by homeowners.

This much is known about how hurricanes damage homes: Windows are more likely to be damaged by the impact of wind-blown debris, while doors are more likely to fail due to wind pressure. The large surface area of garage doors, especially on homes with attached garages, is a particular vulnerability when it comes to hurricanes. Once the garage door is breached, it is far more likely a house's roof will also be compromised.

Yet for 10 years, and in contradiction of state law that recognizes the need to mitigate against both debris impact and wind strength threats, insurance regulators all but ignored the wind strength threat on doors and only allowed insurance discounts for mitigation against wind-blown debris, such as hurricane shutters. The oversight stemmed from the faulty report a state consultant produced in 2002 that was incorporated into the state forms that insurance companies are required to use to assign discounts for mitigation efforts.

Exactly how much money this oversight cost homeowners is far from clear, as the system for assigning discounts for individual mitigation steps — such as adding shutters or strapping down a roof — is based on how much overall mitigation has been done.

But it is no wonder that Stumpff, who devised an inexpensive, do-it-yourself kit that enables owners of older garage doors to strengthen their home against winds, objected to the form. Stumpff knew he was losing business when homeowners learned they could receive no additional insurance discount for using his product. But when he first petitioned insurance regulators to change the state's discount forms, they said he didn't have standing.

Regulators' concern should have been fixing a mitigation discount system that doesn't comply with state law and discourages property owners from making investments to mitigate hurricane damage that are in the entire state's interest. Stumpff has done the entire state a favor; now Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty's office needs to do its job.

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