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Insurer in receivership as lawmakers look for answers

The move came amid widespread problems in Florida’s property-insurance market, which has seen insurers shed policies and seek large rate increases because of financial losses.
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon this month placed Lighthouse, which has customers in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, into receivership, according to Donelon’s office.
Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon this month placed Lighthouse, which has customers in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, into receivership, according to Donelon’s office. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Apr. 22|Updated Apr. 22

TALLAHASSEE — With lawmakers expected to hold a special legislative session next month on Florida’s troubled property-insurance system, Tampa-based Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp. has been placed into receivership in Louisiana.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner James Donelon this month placed Lighthouse, which has customers in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, into receivership, according to Donelon’s office.

The move came amid widespread problems in Florida’s property-insurance market, which has seen insurers shed policies and seek large rate increases because of financial losses. Florida regulators recently placed two insurers, St. Johns Property Insurance Co. and Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., into receivership after they were declared insolvent.

Karen Roach, press secretary for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, said Lighthouse has about 27,000 policies in the state.

“The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is working closely with the receiver in Louisiana to protect those policyholders,” Roach said in an email.

A memo to insurance agents from Lighthouse and the related Lighthouse Excalibur Insurance Co. pointed to what are known as insurance guaranty associations in Florida and the other states stepping in to cover claims.

“(The) rehabilitation and subsequent liquidation provide a pathway for the Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Texas Insurance Guaranty Associations to administer and fund the outstanding claims of Lighthouse,” the memo said. “The guaranty funds are able to fund claims of insolvent insurers up to their applicable limits as well as return premiums.”

Lighthouse told agents in February that it would stop writing new business in Florida. The rating agency Demotech announced March 29 that it was withdrawing its financial stability ratings for Lighthouse and Lighthouse Excalibur. The Demotech announcement pointed to losses from Hurricane Ida, which slammed into Louisiana last year.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will call a special session in May to address problems in the insurance system. The House and Senate were not able to reach an agreement on an insurance measure during the regular legislative session, which ended March 14.

Legislative leaders have not detailed proposals for the session. But during a meeting Thursday of the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, Tim Meenan, general counsel of the association, said issues could include making available lower-cost reinsurance to property insurers and trying to reduce losses from roof-damage claims.

Reinsurance, which is essentially backup coverage for insurers, plays a vital role in the market and helps determine costs. Meenan said proposals for the special session could include temporarily making additional reinsurance coverage available through the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which provides relatively low-cost reinsurance.

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Roof-damage claims also have been a major issue, with insurers contending that questionable, if not fraudulent, claims are driving up costs. The Senate during this year’s regular session proposed allowing new deductibles of up to 2 percent on roof-damage claims. But the House rejected the idea, which would have led to increased out-of-pocket costs for homeowners who need to replace damaged roofs.

Meenan, who also is an insurance lobbyist, said he did not think lawmakers during the special session would address “tort reform” issues that could limit lawsuits against insurers.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, or FIGA as it is widely known, is a nonprofit organization created by the state to handle claims of insolvent insurers. As a result, it is dealing with claims from customers of St. Johns Insurance and Avatar. It has approved what are known as “assessments” that are passed through to policyholders throughout the state to cover costs.

During Thursday’s meeting, the association’s board approved a plan to borrow $250 million to pay claims, with the debt financed by the assessments.

Board member Marc Dunbar raised the possibility that lawmakers during the special session could provide money to pay claims, effectively reducing or eliminating the need for the assessments. Dunbar said he is unsure how likely such a move would be.

“I know it’s being discussed, that’s all I can say,” said Dunbar, who also is a lobbyist and a member of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors.

By Jim Saunders

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