This blog follows a telephone conversation I had with an insurance carrier representative who disputed the policyholder’s entitlement to interest under Florida Statute § 627.70131(5)(a).
Insurance carriers have a statutory duty to pay interest on claims after refusing or delaying payment of policy benefits. The statute states:
627.70131. Insurer’s duty to acknowledge communications regarding claims; investigation. –
(5)(a) Within 90 days after an insurer receives notice of an initial, reopened, or supplemental property insurance claim from a policyholder, the insurer shall pay or deny such claim or a portion of the claim unless the failure to pay is caused by factors beyond the control of the insurer which reasonably prevent such payment. Any payment of an initial or supplemental claim or portion of such claim made 90 days after the insurer receives notice of the claim, or made more than 15 days after there are no longer factors beyond the control of the insurer which reasonably prevented such payment, whichever is later, bears interest at the rate set forth in [Fla. Stat. Ann. § 55.03]. Interest begins to accrue from the date the insurer receives notice of the claim. The provisions of this subsection may not be waived, voided, or nullified by the terms of the insurance policy. If there is a right to prejudgment interest, the insured shall select whether to receive prejudgment interest or interest under this subsection. Interest is payable when the claim or portion of the claim is paid. Failure to comply with this subsection constitutes a violation of this code. However, failure to comply with this subsection does not form the sole basis for a private cause of action.1
An insurance company is in a far better position than its insureds to effectuate prompt and fair settlement of insurance claims. Many policyholders suffer through a prolonged claims process experiencing constant delays in communication. Delays in the process often enable the insurer to wrongfully withhold benefits due and owing under the policy. Time is of the essence when the insured depends on payment of policy benefits to properly and promptly repair his or her home following a loss. Fortunately, § 627.70131(5)(a) provides a remedy for policyholders experiencing claim delays or denials.
The statute promotes prompt claim resolution by penalizing the insurance company for non-compliance.2 The date the insurer receives notice of the loss triggers a ninety-day period within which the carrier must investigate and resolve the claim. The insurer is required to pay statutory interest on any payment of benefits beyond the ninety-day investigation period.
Statutory interest is calculated from the date the insurer received notice of the claim using the interest rate found in Florida Statute § 55.03.3 Interest is payable at the same time payment of benefits is made. This incentivizes the insurance company to timely resolve its policyholders’ claims. An insurer’s refusal to pay interest on any payment made after ninety days from the date of notice constitutes a code violation.4
A qualified property insurance professional can assist policyholders in determining entitlement to statutory interest. Statutory interest can provide some relief to those fighting the uphill battle of obtaining wrongfully withheld policy benefits.
1 Fla. Stat. § 627.70131(5)(a) (emphasis added).
2 The term “insurer” refers to any residential property insurer. Fla. Stat. § 627.l70131(4); see also Great Lakes Reinsurance (U.K.) PLC v. Branam, 126 So.3d 297, 303 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013) (Florida statute imposing ninety-day time limitation for insurer to pay or deny property insurance claim applies to residential property owners and not marine insurers).
3 Judgment Interest Rates can be found at https://www.myfloridacfo.com/division/aa/vendors/.
4 This requirement is inapplicable if there are factors outside the control of the insurer reasonably preventing such payment. See Fla. Stat. § 627.70131(5)(a).