Flooding

A Florida House committee has approved a bill to curb abuses by water damage restorers’ attorneys.

The state House Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill meant to make it more difficult for “bad actor” water restoration companies and attorneys to collect from insurance companies.

The bill reduces the incentive for water restoration companies and their attorneys to sue insurers.

The bill arises because such suits have skyrocketed in the past several years, leading to charges that they are being abused.

At issue, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Insurers contend the so-called one-way attorney fee provision is abused by a group of restoration companies and their attorneys — mostly in Broward and Palm Beach counties — who convince homeowners to sign over benefits of their claims, then file lawsuits by the hundreds to coerce insurers to settle for any amount over their original offers. Those settlements entitle the restoration companies’ attorneys to claim thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Policyholders statewide pay for the abuses through annual rate increases that won’t stop unless the Legislature shuts down easy access to one-way attorneys fees, insurers contend.

The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, would establish a complicated formula to dictate whether plaintiffs working under assignments could collect attorneys fees if they sue insurers.

Legal fees could only be collected if a final judgment, including an out-of-court settlement, exceeded 50 percent of the difference between insurers’ initial offers and contractors’ initial invoices.

Attorneys for restorers have argued that the bill would cause insurers to underpay claims and lead to shoddy repairs.

Supporters of the bill, though, say abuses have driven the number of lawsuits tied to assignments of benefits to 28,186 in 2016 from 1,406 in 2011, and something has to be done to reform the system.

“Everyone know’s there’s a problem here. We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and hope it goes away,” said Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa.

It remains to be seen what a state Senate version of the bill would look like.

At Boca insurance company Seeman Holtz Property & Casualty, we provide individuals not only with the right insurance, but the right service to meet their needs.