Great googly-moogly. The Tampa Bay Times is at it again, this time it’s a story in which they decry “thin evidence” that Florida’s property insurance crisis is due to frivolous lawsuits. Of course, they publish some of the very evidence in the same story, but they’re so busy propping up strawmen and anecdotal examples that they distract the reader from the overwhelming facts.
But what’s particularly galling about this latest bilge is that the anecdote they chose to illustrate their point actually does the complete opposite, serving as evidence of what might be another too-hastily-filed insurance lawsuit in Florida’s deep sea of property claims litigation.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the headline, which asserts the “lack of evidence” claim regarding the influence of lawsuits on the state’s insurance crisis. Despite the bold letters proclaiming otherwise, the body of the article presents compelling data that contradicts the Times’ premise: “An analysis from 2021…found that Florida accounted for 8% of the nation’s homeowner claims in 2019 but a staggering 76% of its lawsuits.”
This disproportionate figure is utterly staggering and certainly suggests a connection between the rising number of lawsuits and the state’s insurance troubles. Further, the Times acknowledges that even plaintiffs’ lawyers and consumer advocates admit some of the litigation against insurance companies is excessive or unnecessary.
But the article is so focused on tugging the heartstrings in its opening anecdotal narrative – a typical newspaper trope, by the way – that it fails to adequately investigate or explain the plight of homeowner Barbara Glover. We’re told she “narrowly escaped injury” when an oak tree crashed through her home during Hurricane Ian. The Times then paints a sympathetic picture of Glover’s struggles with her insurance company, Universal Property and Casualty, but omits key details and fails to ask key questions that would provide a more balanced account.
I’m not even sure the Times succeeded in making Glover a sympathetic character, so wary am I of the Times’ claims. The story says she received a check for $100,000 from her insurer within a month of her claim, a sum that many would consider timely and significant. Yet, the Times glosses over this fact, emphasizing instead that the amount did not meet the maximum allowed under her policy, lamenting that even that sum wouldn’t cover her cost to rebuild. Why not? We don’t know. The article provides no clarification on the type of policy Glover held, leaving readers to speculate whether she had an “Actual Cash Value” (ACV) or a “Replacement Cash Value” (RCV) policy. There is a very important difference, and one that would serve readers well had the Times explained it, but since it probably could have placed the fault at Glover’s feet, it didn’t fit the Times’ one-sided narrative.
Additionally, in the Glover case, the Tampa Bay Times alludes to a city notice attributing the damage to Glover’s home to a “fire,” and not to hurricane damage. This raises obvious questions about the insurance claim – regardless of cause – and underscores the importance of thorough journalistic investigation. In this case, we’re told the city made a mistake in telling the insurance company the loss was due to fire, and yet Glover and her attorney have filed a lawsuit against the insurance company. Why? How is the insurance company to blame here? They paid Glover $100,000 within a month of her claim, despite official confirmation from the city that the house was condemned due to a fire, rather than hurricane damage.
Could it be that the Times‘ own anecdotal example, meant to inspire sympathy with readers, is the actual evidence of a frivolous lawsuit the Times claims is lacking? Instead, readers are left with more questions than answers and an impression that the insurance company is solely to blame.
Focusing on the larger picture, the Times’ limited focus on disbarred lawyer Scott Strems is another major red flag. He’s the poster boy of Florida’s frivolous lawsuit landscape. His law firm had as many as 10,000 pending cases at a time and was shut down for malpractice. Yet he is but one player in Florida’s litigation saga. According to industry expert Scott Johnson, “Strems wasn’t even the worst. The Supreme Court disbarred him to send a message to the rest.”
Want more evidence that Florida’s trial lawyers are all too eager to file lawsuits? In March 2023, when the law was about to change, the state witnessed a rush to court with 156,652 lawsuits filed. Ask yourself: how many of those cases were trial lawyers with ripe cases ready for a lawsuit, versus filings with the intent of making sure their cases, however justified, qualified under the old law versus the new? The number is absurdly high when compared to other states.
Lack of evidence? Hardly. In sum, while the Tampa Bay Times article purports to shed new light on the insurance crisis plaguing Florida, its inherent bias and omission of critical facts impede a comprehensive understanding of the issue. It’s vital for readers to critically assess such pieces and seek a balanced perspective to form an informed opinion. The Times‘ reporting is sorely lacking, again.