The Florida Legislature recently passed numerous pieces of legislation which impact Florida’s property insurance carriers. Specifically, Senate Bill 76 (“SB 76”) and Senate Bill 1598 (“SB 1598”) were enacted. Governor DeSantis signed SB 76 into law on June 11, 2021 and it is anticipated that SB 1598 will be signed soon. The laws will take effect on July 1, 2021. The bills alter a number of relevant factors to the litigation of first party property cases. Provided below are key provisions of each bill and the effect of these provisions on Florida’s carriers.
Senate Bill 76
This law replaces the existing provision set forth in Fla. Stat. 627.428 fee shifting statute. SB 76 now makes the recovery of attorney fees and costs contingent on obtaining a final judgement for indemnity that exceeds the pre-suit offer made by the insurance company. Should the claim proceed to trial, the new legislation requires the plaintiff to obtain an award of at least 50% of the disputed amount in order to be entitled to 100% of reasonable attorney fees. A recovery of less than 20 percent of the disputed amount result in no fee recovery by the plaintiff attorney. Recoveries between 20 and 50 percent result in a proportionate recovery of attorney fees and costs.
This change only applies to lawsuits brought on behalf of the insured. Fla. Stat. 627.7152(10)(a) continues to dictate Assignment of Benefits litigation. This statute dictates if the difference between the judgment obtained by the assignee and the pre-suit settlement offer is less than 25 percent of the disputed amount, the insurer is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees. A recovery of at least 25 percent but less than 50 percent of the disputed amount leads to no party being entitled to an award of attorney fees. Lastly, as recovery of at least 50 percent of the disputed amount entitles the assignee to an award of reasonable attorney fees.
In a leap for carriers, SB 76 reduces the filing time for first notices of insurance claims to two (2) years from the date of loss in comparison to the current law which allows hurricane claims to be filed within three (3) years of the date of loss and non-hurricane claims can be filed up to five (5) years after the date of loss.
SB 76 now requires a pre-suit notice to be provided to the carrier prior to a lawsuit being filed on the claim. The demand shall be delivered at least 10 days prior to filing a lawsuit. In addition to the new 10 day time frame, the law requires the demand to be accompanied with a complete estimate of the indemnity demand, the attorney fees and costs demand, and the amount in dispute. This pre-suit notice shall not be filed before the 90-day time frame during which the insurance company has the opportunity to make a determination of coverage. Once the carrier has received the demand, it may make a settlement offer, require appraisal, or seek alternative dispute resolution. As a result, carriers now have an additional opportunity to resolve matters before litigation and increased costs.
SB 76 will now require the consolidation of legal actions involving coverage for multiple claims under the same residential insurance policy. In turn, this addition will solve headaches felt by insurers around the state by alleviating unnecessary duplication of discovery as well as reducing attorney’s fees.
Bad news for Roofing Contractors
The new law prohibits roofers from making any electronic communication, phone call, or document that solicits a claim, offers anything of value for performing a roof inspection, offers to interpret a policy of insurance, offers help in filing an insurance claim, or offers to adjust a claim on the insured’s behalf. The new law also necessitates any contract for repairs to include a detailed cost estimate of the labor and materials required to complete said repairs. With a potential fine of up to $10,000.00 for violation of the foregoing, insurance carriers now have the ammunition to further negotiate or repudiate claims set forth by roofers on behalf of the insured.
Senate Bill 1598
Public Adjuster Contracts
SB 1598 extends the amount of time a consumer has to rescind a contract with a public adjuster from 3 days to 10 days. The law also requires standard disclosure language in all public adjuster contracts. In a win for carriers, this provision also requires public adjusters to complete a detailed estimate within 60 days of signing a contract with an insured which must include an itemized cost of the repairs.
Public Adjuster Licensing and Payments
In a break from previous legislation, public adjusters are now required to be licensed by the State of Florida and are no longer allowed to be compensated by contractors or attorneys. The legislation should facilitate a more proficient claims handling process.
It appears insurers could not get away unscathed in the new legislation. Although minor, the new law requires an insurer respond timely to insured’s communications, to pay the insured interest on undisputed payments made after 90 days of the date of loss, and keep a record of their assigned adjusters and notify the insured of the adjuster assigned to their claim.
Although Florida insurance carriers sought additional tort reform, we are hopeful these changes will aid in reducing the abundance of frivolous and predatory litigation brought in the realm of first party property.