The Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee has a number of very intelligent and very well meaning members. Two of them, Senator Rhonda Storms and Mike Fasano stood up yesterday to the insurance lobbyists who know little about insurance, but a lot about propaganda and politics. Full time and professional insurance lobbyists have one agenda–achieve their clients agenda. They have an army of lawyers, a ton of money, and their message is "spin" at its finest. No wonder so many public servants can get snowed by the misinformation and insurance industry proposed laws.
Let me give you an example of what every claims adjuster would recognize as complete stupidity in the insurance world and that insurance lobbyists provided as an analogy to support their position that 20 year old roofs should be separated out of the replacement cost coverage. A lobbyist explained that their proposed law allowed insurance companies to take depreciation on old roofs even under a replacement cost policy. He said this was just like a situation where a five year old car is wrecked and the insurance company replaces it with a five year old car rather than a new car. Now, most of the people reading this Blog know that is a ridiculous and misleading example when applied to real property loss. The reason why is that you cannot buy a five year old roof. There is no ready market of five year old roofs to purchase. And, there is no ready market to purchase five year old nails, shingles, tiles, and whatever else is needed to repair a five year old roof. Indeed, finding and acquiring five year old parts as a replacement will be a lot more expensive than using new materials.
An insurance industry lawyer-lobbyist told the Senators that before the 2006 Replacement Cost Laws that require insurers to immediately pay replacement costs for policyholders who purchased replacement cost insurance, Florida did not require claims repairs to be paid that way. Instead, according to that lawyer-lobbyist, under actual cash value principles, insurers could hold back depreciation before repairs were made. Wrong again. Florida is one of many states that require "repairs" of structures on an actual cash value basis to be made without depreciation taken. Glens Falls Ins. Co. v. Gulf Breeze Cottages, 38 So. 2d 828 (Fla. 1949) In Glens Falls, the Florida Supreme Court decided this very issue:
When insured structures suffer damage far less than total loss, appropriately compensable only by repair, is the measure of indemnity the cost of repair, necessary to render the structure habitable, rather than cost of repair less depreciation?
The discussion of this longstanding Florida law that all adjusters learn was strangely similar to the discussion taking place in the Senate hearing room. I wonder why the insurance lobbyists did not tell the Senators about it and its very sound logic followed by many states when considering how much must be paid when partial repairs are made? The Court noted and found:
The appellants urge us to make a distinction between the damage to a roof and to other parts of a building, going so far as to say that no contention is made that depreciation should be allowed on repairs to the ‘main portions’ of a building damaged by windstorm; that even though the other parts of the building repaired after damage from a storm would be in better condition than before repair, nevertheless the insurer should not be relieved of his duty to make those repairs. Of course to the insurer there may be reason, from a practical standpoint, why the roof of a building might fall into a separate category, that being the part of the building which always feels the full force of the elements, but we must take into consideration the protection which is sought and granted when an insurance company contracts with an owner of property to insure him against loss.
The appellants and the appellee agree, and the chancellor announced, that the contract was one of indemnity. Appellants themselves in their brief concede that in the case of partial loss it is the duty of the insurer to restore the property to its condition prior to the loss (if the cost of doing so does not exceed the amount of the insurance), although the cost of doing this ‘is proportionately more than the amount of damage bears to the value of the insured building.’ Appellants do not dispute the soundness of that rule. In a contract of that character the companies undertook to save the owner from harm caused by ravages of storm, and we think the responsibility obtained without distinction between the roof and the remaining components of the structure. We are not referred to any provision of the contract making any such distinction.
Since the buildings were only partially destroyed, it was all the more necessary, for the reasons we have given, that the roofs should be in good condition in order that the structures might remain habitable, and there seems no occasion for holding that, although the repair of other parts places them in better condition than they were before the damage, a different yardstick should be employed in measuring the amount due for the repair of roofs.
Bearing in mind that the purpose of the contract was to indemnify the owner against loss, we think…that the property should have been placed in as nearly as possible the same condition that it was before the loss, without allowing depreciation for the materials used. Certainly it was not intended that the repairs should be made with materials which were not new. If depreciation were allowed, it would cast upon the owner an added expense which we do not believe was contemplated by the parties when they entered into the insurance contract.
The Florida Supreme Court therefore followed the line of reasoning that actual cash value of partial losses to real property is the amount to repair without depreciation, limited by the total amount of available insurance. It would be a strange quirk if the Florida legislature not only receded from its recent 2006 laws, but, in doing so, took away seventy years of common law protecting insurance consumers—and have the nerve to call the proposed law a consumer protection bill.
Legislators would be well served if they removed insurance industry lobbyists from their "trusted" advisors and only partly for the example I just provided. These insurance lobbyists use conservative principles as "spin." They package anti-consumer laws that will harm Floridians using phrases that appeal to conservative values, although the laws are illogically anti-consumer, but "sound good." For example, who is against the "free market" or "competition?" Nobody. So, every time these insurance industry lobbyists propose a law, they package it in such terms, although the terms do not apply. Conservative legislators should be outraged that the insurance industry lawyers and lobbyists are misappropriating the terms that describe conservative core values and using them to mislead the legislators into supporting laws that truly do nothing to foster the free market or competition, but only hurt their constituents. Conservative legislators and constituents should be further outraged that these lawyers and lobbyists have such inroads into our democratic process because of enormous wealth and resources.
Still, I must apologize if my rhetoric is too harsh regarding our elected officials . I can be as guilty as anybody of getting excited about an issue. I truly meant the following I posted in The Florida Insurance Lobby Currently Controls the Rhetoric Regarding Public Adjusting in Florida:
Everybody reading this should remember a few important aspects about our democratic process, the need to participate, and the need to reform when criticism is warranted:
1. Most elected officials truly want to make the "world, country, state" a better place to live and work. They are not corrupt, but are truly well meaning people.
2. Politicians viewpoints on issues are often ignorant because nobody knows everything. If full-time insurance lobbyists show propaganda to these elected officials that only shows that policyholders are getting something they do not deserve… you do not need to be a genius to appreciate their impressions and viewpoints.
3. Many insurance companies require and train their employees and agents to speak with elected representatives about issues in such a way to slant impressions to elected representatives about the need for laws that protect insurance company interests over consumer interests. They often have these scripted out as talking points so that the propaganda actually makes it sound like the proposed law is in favor of the policyholder—usually through the promise of lower rates which then never materialize or do so at the cost of not having coverage.
4. Unless interested people take an active role to visit with, write, and support representatives that appreciate the truth and the need for policyholder protection, the full time lobyists and employees of the insurance industry will prevail with their message.
5. You have to participate if you want justice to work in a democracy because large corporate interests have already figured this out and spend massive money and time coordinating special interests by industry.
7. Show up and support representatives that appreciate the consumer side of insurance. You need to encourage and provide financial support to consumer organizations…
8. If you want justice, you cannot just sit back and expect others to do it all for you. You have to work at it with your time and money. Make a commitment and stick to it. If it is important enough, make a big commitment and encourage others. One person can make a difference.
9. Do not get discouraged. I have visited with and provided information to various representatives for a number of years. Sometimes, I have felt like it is just me, a few lobbyists I have personally hired because I have to work on my cases, and just a handful of others in Tallahassee trying to push for laws that favor consumers…I feel as if I have wasted a significant amount of money and time while some other colleagues simply do nothing and provide no support. And, I still keep at it.
In contrast, the insurance lobbying effort is massive, professional, and full time. They can outspend and provide greater numbers of individuals in their efforts.
And, policyholders cannot give up because the alternative is unjust laws. Those well meaning political representatives understand the enormous wealth and resources of corporations. Contrary to popular rhetoric and demeaning criticism, most elected representatives are not "paid off" or "corrupt." They will listen if you can present a credible and persuasive impression that is based on genuine and authentic truth of an issue.
I enjoyed providing some of my knowledge and explaining my appreciation for insurance to our elected representatives yesterday. Insurance is a wonderful man-made financial product. The issues before the legislature are not easy. Insurers need to make a profit and we need to develop a larger supply of available insurance. Doing that and providing an affordable product that pays fully and promptly demands lawmaking based on truth, logic, and knowledge.