Florida Judge Rules On Validity of Wind Credit Insurance Forms

Hurricane season might be over, but Floridians know that always having their homes prepared ho for the next big storm is vitally important. Therefore, homeowners around Florida take time throughout the rest of the year to make improvements and take precautions — sometimes that includes obtaining insurance coverage. Unfortunately, sometimes instead of providing the support needed during a crisis, some families are forced to fight their insurance company to receive what they are due on their claims.

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The legal cases surrounding these insurance issues can be quite complex. Courts across the country, including in Florida, continue to hear unique cases related to these insurance matters. For example, as a Florida insurance claim attorney, I recently noticed an article on an interesting case related to wind damage.

The case is Secure Enterprises v. Office of Insurance Regulation and Financial Services Commission. It involves credit forms some insurers use to determine wind storm premium credits for homeowners. Currently, these insurance credit forms do not take into account any measures taken to increase the protection of existing homes. This excludes reinforcing garage doors, windows, and other weak areas of a house. The case was actually brought by a company, Secure Enterprises, which makes a widely available product to help garage doors withstand hurricanes, such as against high winds and debris. Under the current forms used by insurance companies, this product does not make a homeowner eligible for a mitigation premium credit.

The first form at issue, Form 1655, is used for calculating a home’s ability to withstand debris blown against it by strong winds. It includes shutters on windows but does not include any reinforcement of garage doors or other types of windows, like skylights. The second form, Form 1699, also does not include provisions for credits for reinforcing windows, doors, and garage doors from wind damage or debris. The administrative law judge, Robert Meale, ruled both of these forms invalid as they are currently applied. He stated that 1655 mislead homeowners into thinking the only available reinforcement for insurance credit is to install shutters. Judge Meale also found 1699 invalid as it applied to existing houses. He noted that 1699 is ambiguously worded and would, as applied, likely work against its intent — to incentivize homeowners to make their houses more safe and hurricane resistant. As written and applied, however, it gives incentives to protect windows but not doors, which makes little sense.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation is appealing the ruling, and it could be months before a final decision is made. Until then, the current forms, as ambiguous and counter-intuitive as they are, will continue to be used. However, there is hope that by next hurricane season these home improvement measures will be eligible for wind storm insurance credits. This year, the northern states, like New Jersey and New York, were hit by Hurricane Sandy, but another year it may again be Florida and any efforts to incentivize safer homes during storms is a positive development.

Regardless, a Florida insurance attorney can assist you if your insurance company is giving you the run around or denying you benefits. Under Florida law, if you succeed in your case, the attorney’s fees will automatically be the responsibility of the insurance company. This means that in most cases no matter how big or small your claim, if you win your case, you get to keep the entire award and the insurance company will pay all of your lawyer’s fees.

[Hurricane damage photo courtesy of public-domain-image.com]