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DeSantis' New Insurance Law and Hurricane Idalia's Aftermath

DeSantis' New Insurance Law and Hurricane Idalia's Aftermath

By Gotcha Media | | August 31, 2023

In the early hours of a nondescript Wednesday, Hurricane Idalia came roaring onto the Floridian coast like an uninvited guest, 190 miles north of Tampa. With wind speeds of 125 miles per hour, it narrowly missed the intensity of a Category 4 storm, that will now test the impact of Gov. Ron DeSantis' New Insurance Law.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), its Category 3 classification was still enough to do "devastating" damage. For many Floridians, the havoc wreaked by Idalia's winds and storm surges was a somber reminder of nature's wrath, particularly for a region that hasn’t experienced such storms in over 125 years.

Amid fallen trees and submerged roads, Cedar Key, a quaint island connected to the mainland by bridges, seemed like a scene out of a dystopian novel. The fire and rescue department issued a stern warning: "We have multiple trees down, debris in the roads, do not come.” Michael Bobbitt, a local resident, painted an equally dire picture on social media, “Our entire downtown is submerged. Houses everywhere are submerged.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fallout continued. Power lines were downed, plunging hundreds of thousands into darkness. Gas lines were disrupted, leading to an explosive cocktail of hazardous conditions. But for Floridians, another storm is brewing, one less visible but potentially more devastating — the fine print of their insurance policies.

Introduced by Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP lawmakers, recent alterations to Florida's insurance laws have been nothing short of a boon for insurance companies. What has changed? A complicated set of revisions. Homeowners are now cornered by terms that make it difficult to sue for “bad faith.” Even if they win a lawsuit, the right to recover attorney's fees has evaporated.

Mandatory binding arbitration clauses can now be introduced into new policies, effectively nixing the option for many to take their grievances to court. Amy Bach, executive director of the advocacy group United Policyholders, summed it up: “It’s now economically absurd and risky for a consumer to file a lawsuit.”

The kicker? Home insurance premiums in Florida are already swelling at four times the national average, yet the new legislation narrows eligibility for Citizens insurance coverage, Florida’s state-run nonprofit insurance company that's often the last resort for affordable coverage.

Behind the façade of legal jargon and political maneuvers lies the unsettling truth: DeSantis has strong financial ties to the insurance industry. Between January 2018 and December 2022, insurance industry employees donated at least $3.9 million to his gubernatorial race and his political committee. Heritage Insurance and People’s Trust Insurance further sweetened the pot with $125,000 for DeSantis’s 2023 inaugural celebration, as reported by the American Federation of Teachers union and advocacy groups.

On Monday night, Governor DeSantis reassured Floridians, stating he wants insurance companies “to make people whole who pay for this service.” Yet, the disquieting reality is that if claims are not honored, the very laws he championed would make it nearly impossible for residents to fight back.

As Floridians begin the arduous process of picking up the pieces after Hurricane Idalia, they find themselves caught between the primal forces of nature and the complicated intricacies of man-made laws. It's a double-edged sword where nature's unpredictability meets human precarity, and the human spirit, resilient but not invincible, is tested yet again.

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