Thursday, June 6, 2019

Florida Senate Passes Controversial "AOB" Property Insurance Bill

Legislators have passed a bill to address a controversial
Florida property insurance practice. However,
many property owners and contractors disagree with the solution.

Recently, Florida legislators passed a bill that will reform an insurance policyholder benefit known as assignment of benefits (AOB). SB 122 seeks to clarify AOB agreements and limit lengthy litigation. However, many Florida renovation companies have contested the bill, arguing that it favors insurance companies and puts increased risks on small contractors and remediation businesses.

An assignment of benefits is an agreement that transfers an insurance claim rights and benefits to a third party, such as a contractor hired to do repairs. This means that an insurance company directly interacts with the contractor, and ultimately pays the contractor. For most contractors, this practice safeguards them against clients who refuse to pay after services are rendered. For clients, AOBs can help get a project rolling quicker than waiting around for an insurance approval.

However, the practice has been exploited in some cases. Reports of contractors pocketing insurance payouts without performing the work have been reported across Florida. In other incidences, contractors have billed insurance companies for unnecessary services. These schemes are known to industry insiders as "AOB fraud".

Due to the way that many contracts are written, property owners are legally barred from finding another contractor to do the work. Oftentimes, homeowners resort to lawsuits after they have lost control of the claim process.

In an attempt to curb this dysfunction, lawmakers have created SB 12. SB 122 provisions include:
  • Define “assignment agreement” and establishing requirements for the execution, validity, and effect of such an agreement
  • Prohibit certain fees and altering policy provisions related to managed repairs in an assignment agreement
  • Transfer certain pre-lawsuit duties under the insurance contract to the assignee and shifting the burden to the assignee to prove that any failure to carry out such duties has not limited the insurer’s ability to perform under the contract
  • Require each insurer to report specified data on claims paid in the prior year under assignment agreements by January 30, 2022, and each year thereafter
  • Allow an insurer to make available a policy prohibiting assignment, in whole or in part, under certain conditions
  • Revise the state’s one-way attorney fee statute to incorporate an attorney fee structure in determining the fee amount awarded in suits by an assignee against an insurer
  • Require service providers to give an insurer and the consumer prior written notice of at least 10 business days before filing suit on a claim.

While the intent is said to protect consumers, some property owners and contractors disagree with the bill, which was heavily lobbied for by the insurance industry.

Property owners take issue with the fact that they must go through insurance companies to determine who can make repairs and how much they can spend. Insurance companies send "preferred vendors", or contractors affiliated with the insurance company. Many homeowners have complained that the preferred vendors do not perform the quality of work that they want, which can sometimes cause further issues and claims down the road.

For contractors, the bill would further lengthen the scope of a project with additional regulations. Contractors argue that they would receive less work once insurance agencies could require homeowners to only use a preferred vendor, making it especially difficult for small businesses. Furthermore, these new rules could allow insurance companies to underpay contractors that start work on a home without pre-approval from the insurance company, which is sometimes necessary to address emergency repairs.

Proponents of the bill insist that the AOB issue lies with frivolous lawsuits which are spurred by the promise of high payouts; prior to SB 122, the brunt of legal fees fell on insurance companies.

However, property owners and contractors contend that AOB agreements leave them with few options other than litigation.

SB 122 passed in the Senate and is slated to go into effect July 1, 2019. The bill will be applied prospectively, so it is unlikely to affect lawsuits filed prior to its passing.

To read more about the bill, visit the Florida Senate website. To learn more about assignment of benefits and what it means to you as a contractor, visit Zack Academy. Zack Academy offers a variety of remediation and restoration courses.

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