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Florida State Senator Calls for Hearings over Citizen's Proposed Sinkhole Increase

Source: News

Posted on 29 Jul 2011

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After Florida’s largest property insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance Group, proposed an average increase of nearly 430 percent, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, called the rate hike a “kick in the gut” to citizens and called for statewide hearings.

Fasano wrote a letter to Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty of the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) requesting statewide customer hearings be held before Citizens’ recent application for increased sinkhole premiums are approved.

On Monday, Citizens released its list of proposed rate hikes for its customers who carry sinkhole coverage. The average increase amounts to 443 percent statewide, but some counties will see increases of between 1,500 to 2,000 percent.

“In light of these almost incomprehensible rate increases, I respectfully expect that all Floridians be given the chance to have their voices heard on this issue before the Office of Insurance Regulation rules on the application,” Fasano wrote to McCarty. “Hearings held throughout the state, especially in those areas which will receive the highest rate increases, must be held before the application is given consideration.”

Now that Citizens has made its intentions known, Fasano believes that private insurers will not be far behind.

“If private insurers follow Citizens’ lead, then Floridians will have few affordable options left if they need or want sinkhole coverage,” Fasano said. “It is my hope that Commissioner McCarty allows hearings to be scheduled so that those impacted will have the opportunity to say, in their own words, just how devastating these proposed premium hikes will be.”

The OIR has identified increased sinkhole claims as one of the factors driving up the cost of  homeowners insurance rates. Insurance industry officials said there has been a substantial increase in the frequency of claims, and that these claims are being filed outside the traditional sinkhole alley in Hernando and Pasco counties.

A 2010 study showed that 11 counties in the central and southern part of Florida accounted for about 90 percent of all sinkhole claims, but, although they are rare in the Panhandle, sinkholes do occasionally occur here.

A woman who drowned in Washington County’s Crystal Lake in 2004 may have slipped into a sinkhole, according to a News Herald report from the time. In 2002, a 4-foot-deep sinkhole opened in a westbound lane of U.S. 98 between Panama City Beach and Destin, closing the highway to traffic for hours.

A court case in 1992 centered on a Marianna couple’s quest to convince their insurance company that their house was perched on a sinkhole. A jury agreed, awarding the couple $50,000 to make repairs. According to a News Herald report at the time, they weren’t the first Marianna residents to complain about sinkholes.

“We get them every so often,” John Mader, Jackson County’s emergency management director, told The News Herald in 1992. “It (damage) is usually very small. It doesn’t even get reported in a lot of cases. The road department will occasionally patch a hole in the road that was caused by a minor sinkhole.”