2022 Reader’s Choice Story of the Year: Hurricane Ian’s destruction also shaped Florida’s politics

by | Dec 31, 2022

The Capitolist’s 2022 Reader’s Choice Story of the Year: Hurricane Ian’s far-reaching impact

Our readers have spoken, and more than 34 percent say that Hurricane Ian’s far-reaching impact on Florida should be the 2022 Story of the Year. The monster hurricane had it all: terrible devastation in Fort Myers and the surrounding communities of Southwest Florida, destruction so expensive and widespread that it triggered a radical overhaul of the state’s property insurance industry, and in the immediate aftermath, it froze the 2022 governor’s race, virtually allowing Governor Ron DeSantis cruise to an easy win over Charlie Crist.

The Deaths

In a span of five days before Ian made landfall, the storm’s path and strength wavered significantly, with potential landfall predicted anywhere from well west of Tallahassee to just north of Fort Myers.  The wild fluctuations in Ian’s predicted path caught many people unprepared when the storm shifted south and strengthened dramatically just a day before impact. Just 28 hours before landfall, Ian started showing a southward drift that would eventually bring the heart of the deadly storm on a direct path for Fort Myers. It was a shift that cost lives and caught many people unprepared.

Medical examiners attributed 144 deaths to the storm, most of those died by drowning.

The Destruction

Economic damage is hard to measure, and how it’s categorized matters, too. Experts and computer models suggest that Ian likely caused a grand total of $50 billion to $65 billion in damages – one of the costliest storms on record. But those totals include economic losses from lack of expected revenue, on top of real property damage. Actual insured losses, on the other hand, are a tangible way to measure the destruction in terms of real damage caused.

While the total continues to climb, insured property losses from Hurricane Ian are now $12.6 billion, according to official data from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. That includes 669,639 claims filed so far, of which nearly 464,000 claims were on residential property damage. The remainder of the damages include commercial property and vehicle damage, including cars, trucks and boats. Progressive Insurance recently said the company had paid out over $600 million in vehicle damage claims.

And then there’s flood damage, often tracked and reported separately from other property claims. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced in mid-December that the National Flood Insurance Program has so far paid more than $1.46 billion to 45,300 policyholders due to Hurricane Ian.

The Reforms

Florida’s property insurance industry was already in trouble long before Ian made landfall. Prior to the start of 2022, many property insurance companies cancelled policies, pulled out of the state, or were declared financially insolvent when the cost of obtaining reinsurance – financial protection purchased by the insurance companies to ensure they can pay a large number of claims at once (such as with Hurricane Ian) – proved too expensive or impossible to find.

With homeowners scrambling, the cost of property insurance in Florida skyrocketed, while others couldn’t find any insurer at all – except for the state-subsidized Citizens Property Insurance. Lawmakers even attempted to patch the problem in the spring, holding a special session just to address the issue. But those fixes were tempered by an unwillingness to go after the real problem: high litigation costs. Florida’s legal environment simply made it too expensive and costly for property insurers to offer protection across a state sitting smack-dab in the middle of the hurricane zone.

Once Ian’s significant damage became a reality, lawmakers returned to Tallahassee and made radical changes to state law that prohibit things like “assignment of benefits,” a practice that allowed homeowners to effectively obtain a free roof from a roofing company, provided they assign their insurance benefit to the roofer, who in turn would pursue the cost of the roof from the insurer, taking them to court if necessary. The practice bred an entire cottage industry of roof replacements and litigation, making Florida one of the most litigious states in the nation.

The Governor’s Election

Nobody’s suggesting that Democrat Charlie Crist was in a strong position to challenge incumbent Republican Ron DeSantis before Hurricane Ian made landfall on September 28th, just six weeks before election day. But from that point forward, the election was effectively frozen in place. Normal made-for-television campaign events became impossible for Crist, who couldn’t afford to be seen politicking while millions of Floridians were without power or dealing with the storm’s aftermath.

Instead, Crist was forced to tour the damage and hand out water bottles, while his opponent, DeSantis, could announce millions in financial aid. DeSantis merely needed to do his job, ensuring that power got restored and supplies were moving, all of which made great television and easy campaign fodder.

In the end, DeSantis turned a 10-point lead in the polls into a 19-point win at the ballot box, and the rest is history.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Charlie Christ wouldn’t have won even if we hadn’t had a hurricane.

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