Yesterday, July 24, 2012, the head of one of Florida’s top sinkhole law firms, Chip Merlin, accused the board of Citizens of breaking the law.
The accusation was false!
Merlin’s charge was levied via questions contained in a blog post also titled as a question: “Is Citizens Board of Directors Violating the Law?” The article itself, however, made it clear Merlin either believes the law is being broken or wants us to think he does.
“It is obvious to most that the current Board of Citizens does not understand the letter of the law.”
“How come the current Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate is not getting headlines for objecting to this or even a small quote raising the issue of this illegal action by Citizens?” [Emphasis added.]
“Why have laws if there is no accountability?”
“Those in leadership should start an investigation as to why Citizens’ Board is reducing coverage to an amount lower than that mandated by Florida law.” [Emphasis added]
Merlin’s concerned over reductions in coverages being undertaken by the board; including the limitation of water damage to $15,000 which he cautiously phrased “…is not what ISO policies limit coverage to.”
A trial lawyer trick, in my book–only someone who knows ISO merely recommends policy forms would’ve been so careful to avoid saying that most carriers don’t conform to the ISO language, especially when it comes to water damage. And, the OIR has approved restrictions for private carriers and the comparison with private carriers was researched and heavily debated during Citizens last board meeting. But, why mention any of that?
Merlin’s goal is not only clear, it’s all but stated in his article–to intimidate regulators; the Insurance Consumer Advocate, Robin Westcott; the Insurance Commissioner, Kevin McCarty or Attorney General, Pam Bondi, into preventing the Citizens board from reducing exposure and policy count via coverage reductions.
He obviously believes the legislative branch won’t change the law and that one way around that is to cause regulators to do so by alleging, falsely, that the current law is being broken.
These motives crystallize when Merlin supports his point with charged media accounts and irrelevant statutes. For example, as an indication that Citizens reducing coverage is illegal he cites, (using highlighted bold print) the following statute:
“[Citizens]…shall strive to increase the availability of affordable property insurance in this state, while achieving efficiencies and economies, and while providing service to policyholders, applicants, and agents which is no less than the quality generally provided in the voluntary market, for the achievement of the foregoing public purposes.
Notice the words in bold? Merlin added the bold himself and, in my opinion, intended to distract from the fact that the non-bold language refers to “service” not coverage.
But, don’t take my word for it. Read the article yourself here. You’ll see he uses half-truths taken from newspapers, which include either disconnected diatribes about travel expenses or quotes from public adjusters or…a quote from the former state consumer advocate, Sean Shaw, who works for Merlin!
There’s no formal or independent legal opinion and no relevant statutory citations what so ever.
But, here’s an even better indicator of motive. While he cites paragraph after paragraph of statutes even less relevant than the one above, Merlin doesn’t mention that Citizens corporate counsel reviews board actions for legality. And…at one point Merlin lists sequential sections of law in Fs-637.351(6) 6 (c)1 paragraphs a, b, c, but stops before he gets to f. Why?
Well, maybe it’s because f. is not only incorporated into the Citizens plan of operation and approved by the Financial Services Commission (the Governor & Cabinet) but also because, with regards to Citizens residential and commercial policies, it states:
” The corporation may adopt variations of the policy forms listed in sub-subparagraphs, a.-e. which contain more restrictive coverage.”
Such sneakiness is awe inspiring!
Folks, this is a high-stakes game and we’ve all got to keep our eye on the ball and especially on trial lawyers, some of whom are apparently willing to say anything!
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