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Posted on May 18th, 2010 at 8:56 PM by admin

A Tallahassee-based organization that represents Florida insurers is urging state lawmakers to pass legislation they claim will shore up the property insurance market.

Without passage, the Property Insurers CEOs Group claims that Floridians will end up “saddled with billions of dollars of debt, should a major storm strike the state.”

The group, which comprises CEOs representing 21 insurance companies statewide, held a news conference Wednesday morning to warn that, with just two weeks left before the end of the legislative session, systemwide changes are desperately needed before hurricane season begins June 1.

The group is urging passage of Senate Bill 2044 and House Bill 447, which, among other things, impose a three-year limit on hurricane claims, require that insurance payments be used to repair homes damage by a hurricane or sinkhole, eliminate frivolous sinkhole insurance claims, address fraud and strengthen laws to guarantee the solvency of insurance companies.

Both bills also call for insurance rate hikes, an issue downplayed by the group. Instead, they noted that, if insurers can’t attract enough capital, more Floridians would be dumped into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run property insurer of last resort.

“Floridians would be faced with even higher assessments from Citizens. We simply can’t afford to let that happen,” said Jay Newman, chairman of Davie-based Sawgrass Mutual Insurance Co.

Members said that even though Florida has not had a major hurricane in several years many private property insurers are not building the capital reserves that would be needed should a big storm, or a series of storms, hit the Sunshine State.

“If a catastrophic storm strikes the state, it will be left to residents to pick up the difference in the form of assessments added to their insurance premiums,” the group claims.

The group said that, according to figures from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, 52 state domestic property insurers and the Florida subsidiaries of three national carriers had underwriting losses of $750 million last year, despite the fact that there were no hurricanes.

The group also is calling for public adjusters to be reined in.

“There are many good public adjusters and they serve the public well in terms of language barriers, we recognize and respect that. What we don’t respect is fraud, invented claims,” said Bob Ritchie, CEO of Tampa-based American Integrity.

David Beasley, president-elect of the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, said his organization has been working on compromises and agreed language to the legislation that will benefit not only consumers, but also the insurance industry.

“A lot of times, we are painted with a broad brush that doesn’t reflect the best efforts,” he said. “A lot of public adjusters are there to support consumers first. Sometimes, that comes in opposition to carriers.”

Beasley said that, while there are people in any business who “take shortcuts,” his organization has always supported initiatives including tougher licensing and education standards.

Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.

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