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Judge allows use of mediators and arbitration for property insurance claims disputes

Judge allows use of mediators and arbitration for property insurance claims disputes

TALLAHASSEE — With Florida property insurers trying to curb lawsuits, a Leon County circuit judge has refused to block a decision by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier that could steer at least some disputes away from courtrooms.

Judge Angela Dempsey last week rejected a request by contractors for a preliminary injunction against Altmaier’s decision early this year to approve policy changes proposed by American Integrity Insurance Company of Florida.

The changes involve trying to shift claims disputes to mediation and arbitration, rather than civil lawsuits. The changes offer premium discounts to policyholders who agree to use mediation and, if that doesn’t resolve the disputes, to go to binding arbitration.

Customers would have to pay their attorney fees in disputes that go to mediation and arbitration. Contractors are often heavily involved in claims disputes, as they can be assigned insurance benefits and pursue payments.

The Restoration Association of Florida and Air Quality Assessors, LLC, an Orange County-based firm that does work such as mold and leak detection, filed the lawsuit in May and a revised version in August. In seeking the preliminary injunction, they argued, in part, that state law did not authorize Altmaier and American Integrity to “strip away Florida homeowners’ and their assignees’ (contractors’) lawful rights and remedies when a property insurance claim is wrongfully denied.”

“The (policy) text approved by OIR (the Office of Insurance Regulation) will confuse policyholders or assignees and subject them to mediation and confidential binding arbitration when they have a right, by law, to go to court. Equally important, OIR, as a state actor, approved the jury-trial waiver, which is inconsistent with Florida’s guarantee that the ‘right to trial by jury shall be secure to all and remains inviolate,’” an Oct. 12 motion for a preliminary injunction said, quoting part of the Florida Constitution.

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