Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Seeks to Improve the Homeowners’ Claims Process By Tod Aronovitz | 07/24/13 | 0 Comment

Robin Smith Westcott, the state’s insurance consumer advocate, is working with a group of attorneys, insurance agents, public adjusters and consumer advocates, to simplify the claims process for homeowners who often find themselves in a precarious position that threatens their financial stability.

Some insurance company tactics that harm consumers are highlighted below.

  • Canceling policies before a claim was paid using credit information to accuse policyholders of misrepresentation on applications, sometimes after collecting premiums for years
  • Requiring homeowners to quickly produce complex documents and testify before a court reporter with homeowners often needing to hire lawyers to settle their matters
  • Instilling trepidation, so that homeowners decide to pay for repairs out-of-pocket instead of going through the process

Wescott wants these insurance company strategies to be considered unfair trade practices.

Several insurance companies represented on the panel acknowledged some “bad actors” in the field, but critics say some changes being considered to protect the consumer may unintentionally create problems.

According to panel member Angel Bostick, the general counsel for American Strategic Insurance Group, “examinations under oath” are often helpful to quickly move claims through the system because they identify missing information that often only the homeowner can provide.

The process used to be fairly simple, she admits, but can now take multiple days and delay repairs to the person’s home.

The reform group is working on a series of recommendations to present before the Florida Legislature in March 2014. The proposal may include regulation on how to perform “examinations under oath,” as well as requiring credit checks to be done during the application period, so a person’s credit could not be a determining factor in a later claim denial.

This group could face quite a challenge. The insurance industry is a major political contributor, with Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign taking in about $1 million. Several lawmakers tried to address insurance reforms this past spring without success.

Some activity is moving forward, however. Last month, the Office of Insurance Regulation fined Universal Property and Casualty Insurance nearly $1.3 million for using a customers’ credit history to deny claims long after the policy had been approved and the premium paid.

Consumers who have questions or need assistance with an individual insurance or financial issue can call the Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or (850) 413-3030 outside Florida; or visit the Division of Consumer Services on the Internet.

The agency has experienced staff to enter all pertinent information into the Consumer Services Tracking system and will respond to individual concerns. The Insurance Consumer Advocate utilizes data entered into the tracking system to identify trends or business practices that may adversely impact Florida consumers. This data analysis may then result in the publication of consumer advisories and/or the development of corrective legislation.

The Office of the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate can be reached by telephone at 850-413-5923, or by email to Insurance Consumer Advocate

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