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Florida Passes Bill Aimed At Cutting Post-Hurricane Lawsuits

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Hurricanes cause major problems for residents of Florida, as do the recovery efforts from those severe storms.

Florida will soon make changes to a law that allows homeowners to sign over property insurance benefits to contractors in a move supporters say will cut down on abuse that's led to thousands of lawsuits in the wake of recent hurricanes.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will sign a bill the Legislature passed Wednesday addressing the issue.

The legislation would allow homeowners to rescind assignment of benefit agreements within seven days, or after 30 days if a contractor hasn't begun substantial repair work. It also would cap emergency repairs paid to contractors under the agreements at $3,000 and restructure provisions for payment of attorney fees in the event of litigation. There is also a provision requiring a clear explanation to homeowners about what they are signing.

The Senate voted 25-14 in favor of the bill nearly two weeks after it passed the House on a 96-20 vote.

The bill passage ends a session-long battle between lobbying groups representing insurance agencies, lawyers and building contracts, with insurance companies saying the bill benefits consumers and contractors saying consumers will be hurt by having to navigate the insurance process on their own and by having to rely on repair companies with stronger loyalties to insurance companies than to homeowners.

But supporters say the current law has led to abuses, particularly when homeowners are desperate after a hurricane when thousands of other property owners are looking for help. DeSantis' office said the number of lawsuits related to assignment of benefit agreements, called AOB for short, has grown from about 90 in 2008 to more than 19,000 last year.

"The exponential growth in AOB abuse has contributed to mounting insurance costs for Floridians for far too long," DeSantis said in a news release after the bill was passed.

Republican Sen. Keith Perry owns a roofing business, and though some in his industry fought the bill, he supported it.

"I've done storm work in every single part of the state. I've never needed nor used an assigned of benefits to do the work," he said during debate on the bill. "This is a predatory practice, and if you want to line the pockets of a few attorneys in the state of Florida with millions of dollars off the backs of the rate payers, then don't support the bill."

The issue was a priority for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who lives in Bay County, the area devastated by Hurricane Michael. He said he's seen too many examples of people taken advantage of after storms, particularly by out-of-town contractors.

"The problem I've got are these bottom feeders who prey on that individual at that time of vulnerability. They know it's like shooting fish in a barrel, and I saw it first hand with Hurricane Michael. I detested what these individuals did from other markets and other area codes and other zip codes and took advantage of people who were looking for help," he said.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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