4th insurance company limits writing new business in Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Tampa Bay area homeowner is angry at state lawmakers.

Tina Hemme, a health care worker from Palm Harbor, is scrambling to secure property insurance before a storm hits. Meanwhile, 8 On Your Side has learned a fourth insurance company is now limiting business in the Tampa Bay area.

“They’re not listening,” Hemme said. “They may say they care about their constituents, I don’t believe it.”

During a special session last month, state lawmakers passed significant reforms. They say the market will eventually stabilize. Until that happens, 8 On Your Side is striving to continue to expose the reality on the ground for families.

A month ago, Lighthouse Property Insurance sent Hemme a cancellation notice. The company was losing money and was forced to liquidate.

“We have been – literally every day – stressed, stressed, stressed,” Hemme said. “Right now, paradise doesn’t look like paradise to us anymore.”

As Hemme waits for Florida’s new property insurance laws to kick in, another company – Heritage Insurance – is suspending new business in multiple counties, including Polk County.

Heritage is joining three other insurers also declining to take on new homeowners in parts of the state: Southern fidelity, ASI/Progressive and People’s Trust.

So why is this happening now, after the special session meant to fix this crisis? 8 On Your Side asked State Sen. Jim Boyd, one of the architects of the just-passed reforms.

“I think some of the carriers were contemplating that before we went into session, as respect to their writings and trying to limit their writings. That’s not entirely unusual,” Boyd said. “I believe we’ve done good work and I’d like to see those results play out.”

Sen. Boyd outlined how the reforms would target the bad actors behind Florida’s litigation problem. One change seeks to limit attorneys fees in certain situations.

“Somebody cannot assign their benefits away to a contractor and that contractor get paid attorneys fees,” said Sen. Boyd. “If you assign those away, then that contractor cannot collect attorneys fees against the insurance company.”

According to Sen. Boyd, prior to the new legislation, a handful of attorneys would assert bad faith on many claims to accelerate the amount of damages. Another reform sought to curb that practice.

“In our bill, we just simply said, there’s still bad faith and you can still assert a bad faith claim, but it has to be for breach of contract,” said Sen. Boyd. “It can’t be just for a normal routine way of business or something you didn’t agree with in the claims process. It has to actually be that the insurer breached the contract with the insurance policy holder.”

Meanwhile, Hemme says she’s repeatedly contacted her local lawmakers to ask for help but hasn’t heard back.

“I don’t feel like they’re listening in Tallahassee,” she said. “Our church, our friends, our life is here so the idea that we would be to the point where we want to sell and move, it’s not really what we want to do. If this is how it’s going to be, it’s not worth it.”

Tina is hoping to finalize a contract with state-backed Citizens Insurance, the insurer of last resort.

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