TALLAHASSEE — Insurers could demand car windshields be checked for damage before they are replaced under a Senate proposal that started moving forward Tuesday to combat reported increasing cases of repair-shop fraud.
But the inspections would have to be done quickly.
The bill (SB 396), sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee after being amended to require inspections occur within 24 hours in most cases and by adjusters employed by the insurers.
Hukill, who expressed concern about the attached timelines, said she will continue to work on the proposal, which has support from Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and business-lobbying groups Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
“There are some bad actors out there, lots of bad actors, it’s more than just a couple of people,” Hukill said. “I thought this didn’t affect my county. But we see them now hanging out in the car wash, the normal car wash on the main drag in my town, coming over to people and saying ‘Do you want us to fix that?’ ”
Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said his amendment Tuesday was intended to prevent motorists from getting tickets for driving unsafe vehicles while waiting for repairs.
“The spirit of this amendment for me is ensuring that these repairs are done in a reasonable amount of time, because it actually violates a traffic law if they are driving around with a broken windshield,” Steube said.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, added a provision that would allow repairs to proceed without inspections if the damage has “demonstrably impacted” vehicles or continued use of the vehicles. He said his proposal is focused on rural communities, where an insurance inspector may not be readily available within a single day.
Ashley Kalifeh, representing the American Insurance Association and Associated Industries of Florida, said glass experts should also be able to conduct the inspections while expressing concern about the timelines. Kalifeh said people are already being encouraged by some glass shops to avoid inspections for windshield replacements that may not be needed.
“When it comes to a time limitation, we would just urge a lot of caution,” Kalifeh said. “It is in everyone’s interest to quickly get a truly broken windshield repaired. But we don’t want people being coached to just avoid the time limitation so they cannot get an inspection.”
Florida law currently doesn’t prevent an insurer from requiring the inspections. The proposal would clearly state that an insurer may require the inspection before authorizing any windshield repair or replacement.
The proposed is tied to a practice known as “assignment of benefits” which is part of a larger legislative battle regarding property insurance and is being blamed for the rise in insurance costs.
Assignment of benefits has been a controversial issue in recent years, primarily because of residential water-damage claims. But it also has become an issue in claims for windshield damage.
In assignment of benefits, policyholders sign over claims to contractors, who perform work and then pursue payment from insurers. The insurance industry contends that the practice leads to fraud and increased litigation, while contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys argue it can help make sure insurance claims get handled properly.
Hukill said windshield repairs and replacements have become a growing field for fraudulent insurance claims.
“It drives up costs for all of us,” Hukill said.
The Department of Financial Services reported that the number of auto glass lawsuits has increased from 397 in 2006 to 19,513 last year.
A House version (HB 811), sponsored by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, has not been heard in committees. .Hukill’s proposal must still go before the Senate Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees.
Published with permission by the News Service of Florida