The Assignment of Benefits (AOB) fraud and abuse has affected hundreds of thousands of Floridians. In the first three quarters of 2018, there were 135,000 AOB cases. Homeowners are dragged into the swindle when they assign to a restoration contractor the right to have their insurance company pay for repairing damage to their home.
The restoration company will bill the insurance company for unnecessary and excessive cost. When presented with an inflated bill for restoration and for lawyers representing the contractor, the insurance company is likely to object. Then the restoration contractor and its attorney will move the dispute to court.
If the insurance company loses in court, it must pay its own attorney fees and the trial attorney fees of the restoration firm. But, if the insurance company is successful, it still must pay its own attorney fees.
The unbalanced obligation to pay one-way attorney fees is embedded in Florida law. It was intended to protect homeowners from deep-pocketed insurers who could afford high priced attorneys with fees that could devastate a homeowner who loses a court case against the insurer. But some unscrupulous contractors and trial attorneys have made it their business to exploit the loop hole, exaggerate claims and profit at everyone’s expense.
There seem to be no constraints on the amount of high priced work (legal fees of $600 per hour) that shows up in the attorney’s charges for representing the restoration contractor. The outrageous one-way fees explain why insurance companies often just pay inflated bills and avoid court costs. In the end, homeowners are left paying significantly higher insurance bills.
The AOB swindle is so lucrative that trial attorneys have been holding AOB training sessions to recruit restoration contractors. They are trained to arrange for assignment of benefit paperwork and work procedures that will be most advantageous in the eventual court case.
The pain inflicted on Florida consumers is real and unfair — “lawyers in a Volusia County AOB lawsuit racked up $40,000 in legal fees over a $790 home insurance claim.” Citizens Property Insurance had to raise rates 8.2% statewide in 2016 because of sky-high AOB legal fees. Because of AOB abuses, Floridians paid $1.5 billion more in the past decade than they would in any other state.
In the last four sessions of the Florida Senate, some Senators drew attention to the outrageous AOB harms inflicted on consumers. Tragically, the one-way fee swindlers are protected by a half dozen Senators who are trial attorneys. They have blocked all attempts to hold a meaningful hearing or allow consideration of a bill to fix the one-way fee problem.
But this year, more Florida Senators are showing exasperation with the actions of the swindlers’ Senatorial protectors, partly because consumers are speaking out loud about these injustices.
One solution is Senator Broxson’s bill, SB 122, which would affirm the contractor’s right to normal fee recovery. It would also remove contractor’s right to one-way fee recovery. That would curb the incentive to file for excessive attorney fees, effectively shutting down AOB abuses – without removing the intended consumer protection. This is a pro-consumer solution that deserves consideration.
Now is when consumers can play a deciding role. There are plenty of Senators who are fair minded on this issue – they need to hear from us. Speak to your Senator, urge support for a solution that will curtail the ongoing financial abuses of consumers that are pushing up insurance rates. The views of motivated consumers outrank the views of supporters backing the unscrupulous attorneys. We just need to tell our Senators where we stand on AOB abuses.