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Tuesday, April 19 2022

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that he will call a special session of the legislature to address rising property insurance rates in the state.

The Republican governor said the special legislative session will occur in May and focus mainly on the “reform of the property insurance market" but could address other topics. He said he would sign a proclamation this week containing meeting dates and additional details.

DeSantis said the goal on property insurance would be to “bring some sanity and stabilize and have a functioning market.”

The announcement comes amid growing consensus among lawmakers to address spiking rates and other problems in the state's property insurance market. Attempts to pass legislation around property insurance failed during the regular legislative session in the GOP-controlled statehouse earlier this year.

“After months of public outcry, newspaper headlines, and Democrats raising the alarm all session long, the Governor has finally addressed the growing homeowner’s insurance crisis," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican who has been pushing for a special session on property insurance.

Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, a company that rates the financial stability of insurers, said one prime factor driving up Florida’s homeowner rates is state court rulings that have made it highly profitable for lawyers to sue insurance companies even if the amount won is relatively small.

Petrelli added that Florida's premiums are also driven up by its rules governing roof replacement, with the state requiring that any roof incurring damage of 25% or more in a storm or other event must be fully replaced.

But Amy Boggs, a St. Petersburg attorney who chairs the Florida Justice Association's property insurance committee, disputed Petrelli's contentions. She said one problem is that the insurance companies are claiming they aren't profitable, but their financial records are not made public so it is impossible to test the veracity of their claims. She said the Legislature passed a law last year limiting attorney fees, so that is no longer an issue.

For roofs, she said, if insurance companies are not going to have to fully cover older roofs, they should be required to tell consumers how much they are covering and how much that will decrease the premium.

She said the only reason the number of lawsuits in Florida is high is that insurance companies often try to stiff their customers out of tens of thousands of dollars. She said in one recent case she handled involving a home destroyed in Hurricane Irma, the property insurer tried to pay about $2,000, saying the damage was caused by flooding that its policy didn't cover. She said arbitrators disagreed and ordered the company to pay $233,000.

“No one is suing over a couple thousand dollars,” Boggs said.

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