Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large | Photo courtesy of Florida Justice Reform Institute
TALLAHASSEE – Anyone who thought assignment of benefits (AOB) reform became a fait accompli with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature last spring did not reckon with continuing and similar issues in auto glass.
"The original AOB bill draft did cover auto glass claims along with property claims but the legislature ultimately chose to move more carefully, and they removed auto glass from the bill," Large said.
That removal left in place loopholes in the state's existing AOB laws that allow trial lawyers and the auto glass vendors they hire to continue raking in windfalls, according to a newly updated report by the Florida Justice Reform Institute.
The report also reveals the persistence of AOB lawsuits that allow attorneys to collect fees and drive up overall litigation and policyholders' costs, according to a FJRI news release issued with the updated report.
"At the heart of the problem is the one-way attorney fee statute designed to give policyholders equal footing in disputes with insurers," the news release said. "Some vendors use AOBs to seize control of this special policyholder right, and then file expensive lawsuits based on inflated claims."
Those lawsuits can happen without the policyholder's knowledge or consent, according to the news release.
"This lawsuit-for-profit scheme is an incentive for trial lawyers and their auto glass shop clients to generate lawsuits via aggressive marketing schemes," the news release said.
AOB litigation reform enacted this past spring was intended to benefit consumers by forcing parties, generally insurance companies and contracts, in an AOB lawsuit to consider reasonable offers.
Leaving auto glass out of the legislation allowed abuses in that industry to continue. The Florida Chamber of Commerce reported last summer that nine firms filed nearly 85 percent of all auto glass AOB cases in the state.
Until legislation passes to cover auto glass AOB abuses, the average Floridian should take certain steps to make sure they are not victimized, Large told the Florida Record.
"If you have a broken windshield, contact your insurance company first," he said. "When done properly, legitimate windshield replacements are simple and at no cost to the policyholder. Be careful, though. Don't fall for a sales pitch and sign your benefits away or you might discover someone used you to file a lucrative lawsuit in your name."