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Controversy Swirling Over Assignment of Benefits

Why are property insurance rates in Florida rising?

As many homeowners are aware, property insurance rates have been steadily rising, which insurers and regulators attribute to a surge in water-damage claims. The controversy has prompted lawmakers to join the debate that revolves around a common practice in Florida known as "assignment of benefits."

In short, homeowners sign over insurance benefits to contractors who are hired to do repairs, and this practice is designed to ensure that that insurance companies pay claims properly, according to some observers. However, critics argue that abuses of the practice are driving up insurance premiums.

The issue is centered on water damage claims arising from leaking pipes, particularly in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, most of which have affected Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The state-backed insurer says the rate increases are the result of water-damage claims and assignment of benefits. At the same time, Citizens is poised to add 50,000 policies this year because private insurers are shying away from issuing policies in South Florida due to the surge in water damage claims.

Recently, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee heard testimony from both sides of the issue and the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee hosted a panel discussion on the matter. This action comes after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a measure that would resolve the issue.

According to one critic who testified at the Senate hearing, the problem is that assignment of benefits lead to inflated and fraudulent claims, and denials trigger additional lawsuits against insurers. In short, the only beneficiaries are vendors and lawyers who have created a "fabricated system."

On the other hand, contractors argued that insurance companies often delaying claim payments or fail to pay the full value of the claims, and that assignment of benefits helps force insurers to act properly. Rather than making major changes to the system, they believe lawmakers should craft regulations to root out those who improperly use assignment of benefits.

Whether lawmakers will resolve the issue remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you are involved in a dispute with an insurer, you should engage the services of an experienced property claims attorney.

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