Judge Weighs Challenge To New Insurance Law

A federal judge heard arguments Friday about whether he should block a key part of a new Florida real estate insurance law, with a Hillsborough County construction company claiming the measure violates First Amendment rights.

Gale Force Roofing and Restoration, LLC, filed a lawsuit last month against part of the law designed to prevent contractors from advertising to encourage property owners to file damages claims. The company argues that the law violates the rights of speech, and its lawyers have asked for a preliminary injunction.

U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker held a hearing on the injunction request Friday, but had not yet made a decision in court as of 6:30 p.m.

Lawmakers approved the insurance measure (SB 76) on April 30, amid rising property insurance rates and insurers dropping policies. The bill’s supporters and insurance industry officials argued that questionable, if not fraudulent, roof damage claims have played a large role in driving up costs.

The measure would prevent contractors from soliciting homeowners to file roof damage claims through a “banned ad,” which could include things like emails, door hangers, flyers and pamphlets.

In the lawsuit, Gale Force Roofing and Restoration said it is advertising homeowners to contact the company for storm damage roof inspections.

“Plaintiff (Gale Force Roofing and Restoration) will then truthfully convey the nature and extent of the damage to homeowners,” the lawsuit said. Plaintiff will then encourage homeowners to contact their insurance company to make a claim under their home insurance policy and perform a contract with the claimant to provide the claimant with the benefits available under the homeowner’s insurance policy. to point.”

The lawsuit said the company would violate the new law, which came into effect on July 1. It also said the law is aimed at reducing the number of insurance claims filed, not tackling fraud.

“The law is an unscrupulous attack on the right of homeowners to receive truthful information about how to repair and pay for repairs to fix the damage they have caused to their property,” the company’s lawyers wrote. “In reality, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to prevent someone from helping homeowners make valid insurance claims to fix their home.”

But in a court filed Wednesday, attorneys for the Secretary of State for the Department of Commerce and Occupational Regulations Julie Brown — named defendant in the case — disputed that the law’s restrictions violate the rights of the First Amendment.

For example, the filing said, “Targeted digital ads or emails, door hangers or hand-out brochures are prohibited if and only if they encourage a homeowner to file a roofing insurance claim. Radio and television advertising is allowed because they are not aimed at ‘a specific person’.”

The filing also said Florida has a “compelling state interest” in ensuring homeowners are protected from skyrocketing insurance rates and have access to coverage. The document states that fraud by contractors drives up costs.

“This translates into hundreds of dollars in higher premiums for some homeowners and denial of coverage for others,” Brown’s attorneys wrote. “In Florida, this type of fraud is particularly rife, given concerns about hurricane-induced roof damage and the tendency for unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of homeowners who cannot readily assess whether their roofs need maintenance. Clearly, the interest of the state in regulating this type of commercial expression is significant.”

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