Citizens–What’s Needed, A Watchdog or a “Real Tiger”?

Ever hear the story about the German Shepherd that was more interested in playing with burglars than scaring them off? My family had such a “watchdog”–we made jokes about him wagging his tail at intruders and we nick named him “Tiger.”

Based on press accounts (See NOTE #1 below) of Governor Scott’s intention to create an office of  inspector general to watchdog Citizens and its employee’s, and while it may not be illegal, per se, I’m afraid the “real intruders” of Florida’s insurance system will continue only receiving  the equivalent of a good tail-wagging.

Those invading Citizens under the guise of consumer protection, and at the expense of Florida’s taxpayers, are revealed in regulatory data, including tables and charts, that point to the same firms; over and over and over again.

Last year, for just the peril of sinkhole, the fourth biggest was Sean Shaw’s enterprise, The Merlin Law Group, with a total taken of $1,773,035.  Other  takers are revealed in the following links, the last of which combines Dwelling and Homeowners and highlights the top ten firms.

  1. Citizens Law Firm Report; HO-3 Policies
  1. Citizens Law Firm Report; DP-Policies
  1. HO-3/DP Combined–top ten firms highlighted.

That was 2011.

This year the top firm was Marshall Thomas Burnett with nearly 30% of the total; roughly equal to the amount that “over 80 [other] firms” handled in total.  Of course, as usual, Sean Shaw’s firm is among the top 12 firms for Citizens Sinkhole cases in 2012.

As an aside and in response to a public records request I learned which  firms and attorneys filed Citizens sinkhole claims from 2006 thru 2010.   Ironically, near the top was Morgan & Morgan.  That’s   where Governor Scott’s likeliest 2014 opponent is employed–Charlie Crist, the architect of Citizens current open door policy.

Now, check this out–the number of lawsuits pending against Citizens for all perils, not just sinkholes. It’s the same culprits…again!

Think about it…while arguing against proposals to allow policyholders the “freedom” to choose a financially sound E&S carrier instead of Citizens; or, while stumping against the Surplus Note Program to allow “freedom of choice” for those with no other option but Citizens, Sean Shaw’s firm had 127 pending cases against Citizens. The Morgan Law Group had 406!  (See NOTE #2 below).

No wonder Sean Shaw doesn’t testify during Citizens public hearings. Why should he open himself up to questions about conflicts of interest or how much revenue he might lose via depopulation?

Maybe no laws are being broken, I certainly hope not.  But, maybe some laws need to be changed.  Besides, isn’t this at least a legitimate line of inquiry for any “watchdog” of Citizens?

And, what about Public Adjusters(PA’s)? I’m told some of them scour sinkhole alley pressuring policyholders to call these same firms.  I’m also told they are paid by the firm(s) and not from the final claim check–in my opinion, a blatant circumvention of the law that limits PA fees for Citizens claims to 10% of the difference between the original offer and the final payment.

Why shouldn’t a “watchdog” also look into this, while it investigates Citizens employees?

In his 777 Plan Governor Scott promised to address burdensome taxes on businesses, like those caused by Citizens.  And, in his inaugural speech he correctly warned that Florida’s economy could not be held hostage by a handful of plaintiffs’ attorneys.

A watchdog of the Citizens household is certainly a worthy effort, but…in the end, what good will it do if it can’t even bark at the “real” burglars?

For that Governor Scott should give us a “Real Tiger”, one that can provide a full accounting of which law firms and Public Adjusters are driving up Florida’s property insurance taxes and why.


NOTE #1: The following articles appeared on Wednesday 12/12/12 giving similar accounts of the Governor’s plans for oversight of Citizens:

Orlando Sentinel

Governor endorses inspector general, regular reviews of Citizens Property Insurance policies,0,3341335.story

Sunshine State News

Rick Scott Wants New Watchdogs at Citizens Property Insurance

Tampa Bay Business Journal

Gov. Scott: Citizens needs an inspector general for accountability

NOTE #2: While not as public or vocal in opposing various proposals, the Duboff Law Firm quietly filed nearly 1,000 “Open and Active Litigation Cases” against Florida’s insurance company and thus all the Floridians who support it.  That’s 11.77% of the total of 8,324 pending cases.

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