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Assignment of Benefits Abuse Continues to Expand

Why are Florida Insurance Premiums so high?

Florida consumers pay some of the highest insurance premiums in the country for auto and homeowners insurance, and it’s not because we are worse drivers or live in a state where hurricanes are prevalent. A major contributor to our higher insurance rates is assignment of benefits abuse. When we first wrote about assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse in July 2016, we mainly discussed AOB abuse related to homeowners insurance and water claims. Unfortunately, AOB abuse is still growing, and is spreading across insurance lines and across the state.

AOB Abuse is growing in Florida

AOB abuse started with Personal Injury Protection (PIP) claims, moved into homeowners claims (often water or roof damage), and is now spreading to the auto glass repair industry. After 2012 PIP reform, PIP AOB abuse cases dropped, but they’re on the rise again—and will likely cause the cost of PIP to rise once more.

AOB agreements have long been used in the auto glass repair industry in order to settle claims efficiently. Unfortunately, there’s been a large increase in bulk lawsuits for glass claims—in the Tampa Bay/I-4 corridor area alone (where much of the abuse is centered) auto glass lawsuits jumped from 3,723 to 17,165 between 2013 and 2017.

AOB abuse equals higher premiums

AOB is a contract between a policyholder and a business in which the policyholder turns over (“assigns”) his or her rights and benefits under the policy. There are many occasions where this type of contract is standard practice and works well, such as in health insurance and auto physical damage claims.

It becomes abuse when a vendor submits inflated claims, provides unnecessary repairs, or doesn’t do the repairs at all but still bills the insurance company. If the insurer balks at paying the claim, the vendor’s attorneys sue the insurance company. Some consumers don’t even know litigation is taking place in their name.

Inflated claims and large attorneys fees drive up insurers’ costs above the national average, and they pass on those costs to Florida consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums. The average homeowners insurance premium rose 30 percent between 2007 and 2015, and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation blames AOB abuse for this large increase. Insurer’s legal expenses in Florida are growing at more than twice the national average. If legal costs had followed the national trend, the cumulative savings to Florida insurers and their policyholders would have been nearly $1.6 billion, according to an Insurance Information Institute report.

More than just higher premiums

There are other problems for consumers besides higher insurance premiums when AOB abuse runs rampant. If you as a homeowner were involved in an AOB lawsuit, whether or not you even knew about it, you may now have a large claim on your loss history. This can result in even higher premiums and make it harder to get homeowners insurance. In addition, an AOB agreement can also give contractors and suppliers the legal right to recover unpaid bills from the homeowner if the insurer delays or denies payment, even to the extent of placing a lien on your home.

Obviously, not every claim is inflated and not every lawsuit is unwarranted, but the situation is such that Florida consumers should be extra cautious if they’re approached by a business asking for an AOB agreement. If you’re in a claim situation, and a company or contractor wants you to sign an AOB contract, think twice. Before you sign anything, talk to your L & M Insurance Group agent or to your own insurance company, especially if you’re being pressured to sign or being asked for a substantial up-front deposit before repairs can be started.

L & M Insurance Group is an independent insurance agency serving eastern Hillsborough County, Tampa, Riverview, Lithia, Valrico, Seffner, Bloomingdale and surrounding areas for more than 25 years. If you need help with any of your insurance needs, please give L & M Insurance Group a call at 813-672-4100, or request an insurance quote by clicking here. We represent you, and we’re here to help!

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Show Your Home Some Love With These Maintenance Tasks

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching and love is in the air! Once you’ve taken care of your significant other, why not show your home some love? Maintaining your home can save you money, hassles—and maybe even a homeowners insurance claim!

You don’t have to do a major remodel to improve your home. Here are a few areas where a little loving attention will do the most good.

First, see your home with fresh eyes. Walk through your entire home, noting areas of wear, safety issues, and so on. Don’t forget your attic, deck, patio, porch, or lanai. Take pen and paper, and jot down any areas that need attention.

For instance, are there signs of leaks, such as discoloration on walls, floors, or ceilings? What about around toilets, tubs, and sinks? Is a faucet dripping or a toilet running?

Even minor leaks can do major damaged, and unlike a sudden accident, such as a burst pipe, gradual damage caused by neglected maintenance is not covered under homeowners insurance policies.

Check Fire Safety Items

Check and replace fire safety items. Change batteries in smoke detectors, and every 10 years, replace the smoke detectors themselves.

Fire extinguishers should be checked monthly. Click here for instructions on how to properly inspect your fire extinguisher. (And remember, only use a fire extinguisher on a small, contained fire. In many cases, it’s more important for everyone to get out of the house and let the fire department handle a fire.)

Drains and Pipes

Keep drains and pipes clear. If water drains slowly from sinks or tubs, try using vinegar and baking soda, or commercial drain cleaner, to get things moving again. Don’t put things down the kitchen sink unless it’s equipped with a garbage disposal. In the bathroom, use traps in drains to keep hair from clogging the plumbing, and don’t use flushable wipes as these also cause plumbing backups.

Air Conditioning

Maintain your HVAC system. Replace air filters on an appropriate schedule, and have the unit cleaned and serviced according to manufacturer’s directions. These tasks improve air quality and help your unit operate more efficiently, as well as lessen the chance of a breakdown when it’s 90 degrees outside!

Check Large Appliances

Inspect and clean large appliances. This includes cleaning the dishwasher, which can become clogged with food particles or soap residue, resulting in dirtier dishes or even a breakdown. If your dishwasher has a filter, take it out and clean it. Run some white vinegar through a wash cycle, or use a commercial dishwasher cleaner.

Check dishwasher and washing machine hoses and replace if they’re cracked or worn.

Clean refrigerator coils.

Empty the dryer lint trap after every load, and periodically clean dryer exhaust vents in order to prevent fire.

Review Home Insurance Coverage

Review and update your insurance coverage if necessary. Are you receiving all available discounts? Have you made home improvements that have added value to your home? Did you replace your roof? Notify your L & M Insurance Group agent of any changes to your personal situation, such as marriage or divorce.

L & M Insurance Group is Here to help

Please call us at 813-672-4100 if you have a question about how a home improvement project might affect your homeowners insurance, or if you need a quote. Happy Valentine’s Day to you—and your home!

Start the Year Right With Insurance Savings

Insurance Savings

Shopping for insurance is no one’s idea of a good time, but here at L & M Insurance Group, we try to make it as simple and painless and cost-effective as possible. We are an all-lines, local independent agency based in Riverview, and we work hard to get you the best insurance savings:

  • Write many different types of insurance, including auto, home, renters, boat, RV, general liability, commercial auto, life, and health.
  • Represent dozens of A-rated insurance companies (including more than 15 different car insurance companies), not just one.
  • Offer “one-stop shopping.” Instead of calling multiple insurance companies for your needs, call us! We’ll do the comparison shopping for you.
  • Represent YOU. We’ll help you understand your insurance needs, help you through the claims process, and treat you like a person, not a policy number. After all, this is our community and you are our neighbors!

Insurance Savings for the New Year

Our goal is always to find you the right insurance plan for your needs at the most affordable price, and in many cases, we’re able to save our clients hundreds of dollars per year while also improving their coverage. Our staff has been serving Riverview, Brandon, Lithia, Valrico, Bloomingdale, and surrounding areas for 25 years, and we’d love to serve you!

Please call us at 813-672-4100 if you have any questions about your insurance, or if you’d like a quote. If you prefer, click here for an auto quote, or here for a homeowners quote. For general inquiries, click here.

As 2018 winds down, L & M Insurance Group would like to thank you for letting us serve you. Have a happy and safe New Year!

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Does Your Homeowner’s Insurance Come Up Short?

Do you Have Enough Homeowner’s Insurance Coverage?

Your homeowner’s insurance policy is a key piece of your financial safety net. Not only does it cover what is probably your most valuable asset, your home itself, it also covers what’s inside your home—or does it?

 

Here are ways your homeowners insurance might come up short:

 

You don’t have enough homeowner’s insurance coverage.

If your home is completely destroyed, will your insurance pay to have it rebuilt with similar quality and craftsmanship? What about coverage for your personal belongings? In the event of a claim, would you receive replacement cost or actual cash value?

 

Also, remember every time you make any significant upgrades to your home, you should notify your L & M Insurance Group agent. Certain upgrades, such as a new roof, could net you a discount. Even if no discounts result, you’ll still want your insurance company to know the true value of your home in case you have a claim.

 

You run a business from your home

Homeowners insurance policies offer no liability coverage and limited coverage for business equipment. Home office policies are reasonably priced and offer both liability and contents coverage.

 

You don’t have flood insurance

Standard homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage, and Florida is essentially one big flood plain. L & M Insurance Group represents several private companies that write flood insurance at a more competitive rate than those of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). These policies also have higher available limits than the NFIP’s standard coverage. Also, private flood companies offer replacement cost coverage on your contents. The NFIP will pay only the actual cash value. (Click here for a flood insurance quote.)

 

Your policy doesn’t have water/sewer backup coverage

A standard homeowners policy usually covers damage from overflow of water from plumbing, heating, or air conditioning as long as it originates on your property. However, if the backup damage comes from outside of your property, such as if heavy rains cause a sewer back up into your home, you may not be covered. This is a scenario all too common in our rainy, hurricane-prone state.

 

You have a special collection of wine, art, jewelry, or other valuable assets

Your personal property is covered up to a percentage (usually 50-70 percent) of your dwelling limit. There are also limit caps on certain categories like firearms, jewelry, silverware, furs, coins, etc. If you have high value items or special collections, you may need a personal floater. You may also need separate floaters for each category of asset—such as jewelry and artwork. Floaters usually have no deductibles, and you may need to have your collection appraised.

 

Why Choose L & M Insurance Group for your Homeowner’s Insurance

L & M Insurance Group is an independent insurance agency located in the Riverview/Brandon area. We have multiple homeowners insurance companies to choose from, and the expertise to find you the most cost effective policy while still insuring your home and its contents for the proper value. Give us a call at 813-672-4100 or contact us online.

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If Lightning Strikes, Are You Covered?

Does your insurance cover lightning damage?

Even if you’re new to the Bradenton/Sarasota area, you’re probably already familiar with our frequent thunderstorms. After all, the Sunshine State could just as well be called the Lightning State—Florida experiences an average of 3,500 cloud to ground lightning flashes every day—1.2 million per year! The good news is that most standard homeowners insurance policies cover structural damage to your home caused by lightning as well as damage to personal property, such as sensitive electronics affected by a power surge. (Please note: power surges caused by utility work or other non-lightning related causes may not be covered. If you have questions about this, please consult your L & M Insurance Group agent.)

 

In addition, your policy will probably also cover additional living expenses if your home is so badly damaged that you can’t live in it while it’s being repaired or rebuilt.

 

If lightning strikes your home or property

If lightning strikes, check your home and personal property for damage, and make a list of anything affected. Do remember that your deductible will apply, and the amount you’ll receive for your claim will depend on whether you carry actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. “Replacement cost” covers the amount you would need to replace the item with a new, similar item, and “actual cash value” will cover the cost of replacing the item minus depreciation for that item. We almost always recommend replacement cost coverage.

 

Report the lightning strike to your insurance company, or to your L & M Insurance Group agent as soon as possible. Your home inventory will be helpful in filing a claim if expensive electronics or other personal property is damaged.

 


What if lightning hits your car? If you carry comprehensive insurance on your vehicle, you should also be covered if lightning damages your car. Your deductible will apply.


Protection from lightning

Surge protectors may help, but often aren’t enough to protect your sensitive electronics from a direct lightning strike. You may want to unplug them before you leave the house, or before the storm hits if there is lightning in the forecast. During the storm, you risk being struck if you try to unplug your electronics, so don’t do it!

 

For whole house protection, consider installing a lightning protection system. These systems help conduct the lightning’s electricity safely to the ground, and should be installed by a certified professional, according to the Lightning Protection Institute.

 

Please consult with your L & M Insurance Group agent if you have any questions about what your homeowners insurance policy covers, and whether or not it is adequate to protect your assets. If you’re in the market for a homeowners policy, please call (813) 672-4100, or email us for a free, no obligation quote.

 

*Photo by Svitlana Koshelieva on Unsplash

 

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Insurance and Your College Student

Congratulations—your child is going off to college! While you’re packing up your student’s belongings and offering last minute advice, take a few minutes to think about how this new adventure affects your own and your college student’s insurance needs.

Car Insurance for your College Student

Car Insurance for College StudentsIs your child taking a car to school? If you’re supporting your student financially, he or she should be covered under your existing family car insurance policy. You will want to notify your L & M Insurance Group agent (give us a call at 813-672-4100), especially if the school is outside of Florida.

If your child is not taking a vehicle to school, you should still tell your agent—you may be eligible for a premium discount, especially if your child’s college is 100 miles or more from home. Also remember that you may be eligible for Good Student discount if your child maintains a certain grade point average, usually a B average or above, whether or not he or she takes a vehicle to school.

Protecting Personal Property of College Students

Another concern for parents of college students is protecting their child’s personal property. About half of all campus crimes involve burglary. While college students need items such as laptop computers, tablets, smart phones, and so on, if at all possible they should leave home any non-essential and expensive items such as electronics, or luxury watches and jewelry.

If your child lives in an on-campus dorm, his or her personal belongings are covered under your homeowners insurance policy, up to certain limits (check your insurance policy or ask your agent, and remember that your deductible still applies).

However, if your student lives off campus, he or she is not covered by your policy, and should buy a renters insurance policy. These policies are affordable, and also offer liability protection as well coverage for personal property.

Make a detailed inventory of what your student takes to school, and update it every year. Include copies of receipts and photos. This will help you get a claim paid faster in the event of a theft.

Remind your student to take common sense precautions, including locking dorm rooms and keeping personal items like backpacks, purses, and laptops with them instead of unattended in the library, cafeteria, or common areas.

If you don’t already have one, you might consider adding a personal injury endorsement to your homeowners policy. This could come in handy if your student is sued for posting something negative on social media!

If you have any questions about what is or is not covered, please give your L & M Insurance Group agent a call.

What about Health Insurance?

Depending on your health insurance policy, your college student may be covered under your policy. If he or she is going away to school, make sure there are in-network doctors and hospitals available in the new area. You’ll pay more for out-of-network medical services, or there may be no out-of-network coverage except for emergencies.

If there are no in-network providers in your college student’s area, most colleges offer student health plans that may be just what you need.

Other Insurance Concerns

If your income is paying for your child’s college education, do you have enough life insurance coverage in place to complete it if something were to happen to you? In general, you’ll want enough to cover expenses until your youngest child finishes school.

What about an umbrella policy? Umbrella policies cover all household members even when they’re away at school. This provides additional liability protection for both your college student and you as their parent.

When you wave goodbye to your budding young adult, rest easy knowing your insurance safety net will continue to protect you all. Please give us a call at 813-672-4100 if you have any questions about your insurance needs, limits, or what your policy covers. You may also contact us online by clicking here.

We’re here to help!

9 Summer Pool Safety Tips for Florida Homeowners

Who doesn’t love to hear the words, “pool party”?

 

Swimming and playing in a backyard pool is one of the best ways to have fun and stay cool during our hot Florida summers. However, homeowners need to be aware that swimming pools can be dangerous for children, especially young children who don’t know how to swim. Drowning remains the leading cause of preventable death for children ages 1-4 years old. Here are some pool safety tips to help you swim safe all summer.

 

  1. Create a barrier around your pool to prevent children from entering it without supervision. Your pool should be fenced or otherwise blocked off on all four sides. Fences should be at least four feet tall with no openings or protrusions that would enable a child to climb over or under them. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching, with the latches out of reach of small children. Alarm the doors and windows that face the pool, especially if your house itself provides the fourth side of the barrier. For added protection, install a surface wave or underwater alarm that will alert you when someone goes in the pool.

If you have an above-ground pool, be aware that children leaning against soft sides can fall in. Surround it with a fence just as you would an in-ground pool. Remove the ladder or steps when the pool isn’t in use, and install a safety cover.

 

  1. When it’s time to swim, a responsible adult should always supervise children in and around the pool. Stay within arm’s reach of young children. Children should never be left unattended, even if they know how to swim.

 

  1. Keep rescue equipment, such as a life preserver and fiberglass shepherd’s hook, on hand. Also have a portable phone nearby when the pool is in use.

 

  1. Establish pool rules such as “walk don’t run,” “no diving,” and “never swim alone.” Make sure everyone in the family and all visiting children know and understand the rules, and be sure to enforce them.

 

  1. Sign children up for age-appropriate water safety and swimming lessons. Keep in mind that swimming lessons don’t “drown proof” a child.

 

  1. Get your CPR certificate. Knowing how to perform CPR could save a life!

 

  1. Avoid the drain. Suction from pool drains can catch bathing suits, hair, or jewelry and trap swimmers underwater. Make sure all drain covers are present and in good repair, and remind swimmers to stay clear of drains.

 

  1. Maintain the pool water. Pool water can be the source of earaches, rashes, and other more serious afflictions if it’s not maintained properly. Test water on a regular basis, and adjust the chemicals as needed.

 

  1. Make sure your homeowner’s policy carries adequate liability coverage in case of accident. Call L & M Insurance Group at 813-672-4100 or contact us online if you have any questions about your limits, or for a free, no-obligation quote.

Happy swimming!

For more information on pool safety for children, please visit poolsafely.gov.

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Hurricane Season Is Almost Here–Will You Be Ready?

After 2017’s Hurricane Irma impacted nearly the entire state of Florida, most of us in the Riverview and Brandon area are taking hurricane preparations seriously this year. Hurricane experts have already indicated that the 2018 season should have slightly above-average activity and probability that a major hurricane will make landfall along the continental United States.

 

Here are five things to do NOW to prepare before a hurricane blows you way:

 

  1. Inspect your home and yard. Now is the time to make any necessary repairs to your roof (if you replace your roof, be sure to get a wind mitigation report—it could save you money on your homeowners insurance), cut down dead tree limbs, or buy any necessary storm shutters, plywood, or braces for your garage door. Also make note of any lawn furniture, children’s play equipment, or potted plants that might need to be moved so a hurricane’s high winds don’t turn them into flying hazards.
  2.  Check evacuation and flood zones (they aren’t the same). If you live in an evacuation zone, familiarize yourself with the route, and make plans now for where you’ll go. If you don’t have to evacuate, consider offering friends or family who must evacuate a place to stay. Tip: Keep your vehicles gassed up during hurricane season, just in case you need to get out of town quickly.
  3. Create or update your Disaster Supply Kit. Make sure you have plenty of medicines, food, water, batteries, pet supplies, and other crucial items on hand. Include a portable NOAA radio, and if you have a landline, a corded phone (portable cordless phones won’t work if there’s a power outage). Click here for a full description of what your Disaster Supply Kit should contain.
  4. Collect copies of important documents, such as driver’s licenses, and insurance policies, and make sure you have your insurance agent’s contact information.   Take pictures of your home and belongings if you haven’t already done a full home inventory, and store those pictures someplace that won’t be affected by the storm, either online or with a friend or family member outside of Florida.
  5. Review your insurance policies. What is your hurricane deductible? Do you have flood insurance? Standard homeowners policies do not come with flood coverage, but flood insurance is more affordable than ever, so you might want to look into buying it.

Don’t let a hurricane catch you unprepared. Take time now to prepare your home and your family for any coming storms. And remember, L & M Insurance Group is here to help you. Please contact us if you have any questions about hurricane or flood coverage.

For more information on hurricane preparedness, please visit:

 

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Should You Carry Dog Bite Liability?

 

Most of us consider our dogs members of the family. They share our lives and our homes—but unfortunately, they may also leave us open to lawsuits. Even though it’s unlikely that your family pet will bite someone, it might be a good idea for you to make sure you have dog bite liability coverage, otherwise known as dog or animal liability.

 

In addition to dog bite claims, dog liability will also protect you if your dog knocks someone over, causes them to trip and fall, or damages their property. It will also protect you if your dog hurts another animal.

 

It used to be that your homeowners insurance policy covered you in the event that your dog injured someone. However, because of the rise in claims and litigation surrounding dog bites this is no longer a given. Florida ranks second behind California for the largest number of dog bite claims, and has the highest average cost per claim at $44,700. In fact, in 2017 dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost almost $700 million dollars and accounted for more than one third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Some insurance companies exclude certain dog breeds, some exclude all animal liability, and others place limits on the amount they will cover. If you have a dog and are concerned about your liability, you should check with your homeowners insurance company or your L & M Insurance Group agent to make sure you have the coverage you need.

 

And it’s not only homeowners who should be aware of the necessity for this coverage. If you’re a renter, some landlords now require dog liability insurance before they will rent to you.

 

Please call your L & M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4200 (or contact us by email) if you have any questions about whether or not your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers dog liability—or if you have any other questions about your insurance needs.

 

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No Welcome Mat for Burglars—Try These Simple Home Security Tips

While you want your home to be welcoming to your family and friends, you also want it to be unattractive to burglars. A few simple home security measures can decrease the chance that your home will be broken into.

Burglars target homes that look like they’ll be easy to get in and out of quickly without being seen. If it takes a thief more than four or five minutes to break in, he’s likely to move on. In fact, “Time, sound, and visibility” are the three main factors you need to keep in mind when securing your home, according to safehome.org.

Time

Make it hard for a burglar to enter your home. Locks, doors, and windows are your first line of defense against intruders. To help keep a thief from kicking in a door, make sure all exterior doors are solid hardwood or metal, and that your locks are grade 1 or grade 2 deadbolts. Security experts also recommend installing a heavy-duty strike plate—the metal plate attached to the doorjamb that the bolt extends into—with three-inch screws that will penetrate to the doorframe stud.

If you have a sliding glass door, place a wooden dowel, stick, or safety bar in the interior track, or add a floor bolt.

Also be sure you close and lock every door and window when you leave home, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Sound

Burglars don’t want any attention drawn to their presence, so if you have a dog that barks when a stranger is around, you already have one method of deterring intruders. If you don’t have a dog, or the family pet is likely to welcome a burglar as a long-lost friend, you may want to invest in an alarm system. Be sure to display the alarm company’s sign and decals to notify thieves of the presence of an alarm.

(Before you invest in a home security system, call your L& M Insurance Group agent at 813-672-4100 about what features your system needs to qualify for a discount on your homeowners insurance.)

Visibility

Trim or remove plants or shrubs that offer a place for a criminal to hide. If you have a two-story home, make sure no tree limbs offer a way for a burglar to break into an upstairs window.

Make sure all entries to your home have good lighting, and consider installing motion-activated lights to illuminate the perimeter of your home.

Don’t leave easily stolen items like bikes or even that expensive grill out in the yard or driveway. And if you’ve recently bought a pricey new item, be discreet about how you dispose of the packaging. If a thief sees the box from a new big screen TV in your trash, he might decide to pay you a visit!

A few more tips

  • Keep your garage door closed unless you’re in the garage or nearby where you can keep an eye on it.
  • Don’t hide a spare house key outside your home. Leave one with a trusted neighbor, or invest in a combination lock box you can put in an out-of-the-way place.
  • If you park on the street or in your driveway, take all valuables inside with you, and lock the doors and roll up the windows. Don’t forget to take your garage door opener inside!
  • Get to know your neighbors. Even if you don’t participate in an official neighborhood watch program, you can still watch out for each other on an informal basis.
  • Walk around the outside of your home looking for possible modes of entry for a thief. Is that window always open a little bit? Does that door look like it could be easily forced? Think like a burglar—then take the home security measures to keep him out!

If you have any questions about your homeowners insurance, be sure to give us a call or contact us via email.