If you are a homeowner in Florida, there were a number of changes in the law that took effect July 1, 2014 based on the Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights enacted by the legislature earlier in the year that could impact you. Some of these changes might have a significant impact on policyholders with claims against their property insurance company, so homeowners should be aware of the changes. Admittedly, many insurers and advocates for policyholders were disappointed in the codified changes, but we have highlighted some important rights of homeowners.
The creation of the bill of rights for property owners was made a priority of the state’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The original version of the changes was drafted by Florida’s insurance consumer advocate’s office before undergoing significant amendments and modifications. Atwater explained that a clear need for the bill existed because approximately 350,000 Florida homeowners file claims annually. Atwater’s office also receives about 125,000 calls from policyholders each year to file complaints or obtain answers about their claims.
Imposition of Timing Requirements: One important step to empowering policyholders involves imposing specific deadlines that must be satisfied when the insurer is processing a claim. Insurance companies will be required to acknowledge receipt of a claim within 14 days after notice is provided to the insurer. Within 30 days of receiving an insured’s sworn proof of loss, the insurer must confirm the claim is covered or indicate that the claim is being partially or completely denied. Within 90 days, an insurance company must pay the claim partially or in full or deny the claim.
Voiding Homeowner Policies for Misrepresentation: Another important change protects policyholders from being sandbagged by insurance companies based on misrepresentations. If a policy was put in place at least 90 days prior to a claim being filed, the insurer cannot deny coverage based on credit information readily available in public records. This provision was added to prevent insurance companies from unethically accepting premiums for months or years only to investigate and void the policy after the insured makes a claim. The provision forces the insurance company to conduct its underwriting of the policy in a timely manner. Section 627-409 (3) provides “For residential property insurance, if a policy or contract has been in effect for more than 90 days, a claim filed by the insured cannot be denied based on credit information available in public records.”
Challenging Impartiality of Appraisers: While the qualifications to be approved as an impartial appraiser were improved, the changes did not go nearly far enough given many appraisers do almost all of their work for insurance companies. The Florida Department of Financial Services receives many complaints from unsatisfied policyholders about the impartiality of the party appointed as a neutral referee. If an insured exercises his or her rights under an appraisal clause, the referee can only be disqualified if any of the following apply:
- A family relationship exists within the third degree between the referee and a party or representative of the party;
- The referee has previously represented a party regarding the identical claim or matter in relation to the same property;
- The referee has employed or been employed by a party during the preceding five years; or
- The referee has represented a party on a substantially related matter that includes the claim, the same property or an adjacent property, and the other person’s interest are materially adverse to the interests of a party.
You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].