Citizens lawsuits: South Florida accounts for 84 percent of cases

TALLAHASSEE -- South Florida lawyers are the most active when it comes to lawsuits involving Citizens Property Insurance Corp., according to the state-backed insurer.

Of the 23,510 claims that went to court between the start of 2009 and the first eight months of this year, 84 percent of the cases were in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to a litigation analysis released Monday by Citizens.

"We want to pay every single dime that we owe, and we want to pay it as rapidly as we can. That is the fundamental premise that we operate under, however we should not pay any more than what we owe," Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said after an appearance before the Florida Cabinet last week.

Gilway contends that Citizens has become a target in South Florida while the numbers are dropping in other counties.

Miami-Dade County, which has 19 percent of all Citizens' policies, had nearly 60 percent of the statewide total of litigated cases, according to the 44-page analysis.

In that study time frame, legal defense fees have totaled nearly $192 million, of which $63.9 million was spent in 2012 and $45.8 million so far this year.

The defense fees topped $101 million battling claims in Miami-Dade County, followed by $24.5 million in Broward County.

To combat the mounting costs, Citizens has, at the direction of its governing board, started setting new standards for claims management by its defense counsel that include a focus on settling before reaching court, Gilway said.

As of Sep. 30, Citizens had 1.22 million policies.

No major hurricanes made landfall in Florida during the study period, while the state was directly impacted by seven tropical storms and threatened by eight hurricanes.

Citizens faced 267,279 reported claims during the 2009 through August 2013 time period. Water losses accounted for 50 percent of the claims and 75 percent of the claims that went to court.

There were 12,233 claims involving sinkhole coverage, of which 2,527 went to court.

In Miami-Dade, 14,170 claims went to court during the nearly five year period, followed by 4,274 in Broward, 1,274 in Palm Beach, 1,144 in Hernando, 964 in Hillsborough, 645 in Pasco, and 334 in Pinellas.


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