Backed with 10,000 petition signatures, a group called the Consumer Protection Coalition marched on the Florida Capitol Wednesday morning urging state lawmakers to reform an insurance practice known as “assignment of benefits,” or AOB’s.
In AOB cases, property and motor vehicle owners in need of repairs sign over benefits to contractors, who ultimately pursue payments from insurance companies.
Insurers and legitimate restoration companies argue the practice has become riddled with fraud and litigation by the actions of a few bad apples within the restoration industry.
“It’s starting to give us a bad rap,” said Ralph Davis, a Tallahassee-based roofing contractor. “We’re starting to look like these bad roofing contractors. I mean it’s staining our reputation as an industry.”
The insurance industry says the amount of litigation and fraud taking place within the AOB process is driving up insurance rates.
“Consumers across Florida have experienced first-hand the abusive AOB practices, and as a result, home and auto insurance rates are skyrocketing and costing all Floridians,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the coalition. “This strong show of solidarity sends a loud message to lawmakers that something must be done to stop AOB abuse.’’
The issue first surfaced in water-damage claims to homes but has since expanded to include vehicle windshield-damage claims.
Year-after-year, efforts have been made in the Legislature to reform the AOB process and each year reforms. Supporters of reform are hopeful this will be their year.
“Floridians shouldn’t have to pay the price for the bad behavior of a small group of people who have exploited a loophole in the law,’’ said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, who is leading efforts to reform the AOB process in the Senate this year.
“For more than 100 years, we never had a problem with AOBs for home and auto glass claims,” Broxson said. “Now, we’re seeing an explosion of AOB-related lawsuits that are costing consumers in the form of higher premiums. This isn’t right, and it must be stopped. We need to put the power back into the hands of the consumer.’’
The coalition says that Florida is the only state in the country that is experiencing such an explosion of AOB litigation, adding that going through another year without legislative action will only worsen the situation for consumers as another hurricane season approaches.
“AOB abuse is increasing at an alarming rate, now creeping into the auto glass realm,” added Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. “We cannot allow another year of inaction to fuel Florida’s reputation as the AOB lawsuit capital of the nation. We are thankful to see the progress and engagement from Florida’s leaders this year, and we’re optimistic that an end to this abuse is in sight.”