Unfortunately for homeowners and business owners affected by Hurricane Michael, a new threat may be on the horizon. We should all be aware of assignment of benefits (AOB) schemes perpetrated by unscrupulous home repair companies and their lawyers. Insurers and consumer groups have spent years urging the Florida Legislature to curb AOB abuse. So far, trial attorneys’ lobbying efforts have derailed every reform attempt.

The scam goes like this. A homeowner calls a home repairman to fix damage to their home. Before work begins, the repair company has the homeowner sign an assignment of benefits form. Once the homeowner signs it, the repair company can now essentially do whatever it wants as it has control of the homeowner’s insurance policy. A leaky faucet could turn into an entire kitchen being ripped out and replaced and billed to your insurance. You could even be named as party of a lawsuit and not even realize it, if the contractor sues your insurance company. Eventually, the repair company walks away with the money and your insurance rate goes up, as well as for millions of other Floridians.

AOB abuse is rampant. Last year, Florida’s spiraling insurance premiums and dysfunctional legal environment earned the state the dubious distinction of being the nation’s worst “judicial hellhole.” AOB litigation has skyrocketed by 90,000% since 2000, with no weather-related justification. Imagine how much higher that number will be with thousands of new victims Hurricane Michael has created.

As you make repairs to your home, please read everything carefully before you sign it. If you have questions about what your signing, do not hesitate to call reach out to your insurance company, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation or the American Consumer Institute.

This letter to residence in Panama City, Florida, was pushed in the News Herald.