Tallahassee, Fla. — The summer months are here, when more people are traditionally on the roads. Traffic congestion has been cited as a reason why the number of auto accidents have been going up and it also can increase the chance for vehicle windshields to be damaged by rocks and other debris. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) warns Floridians not to become a victim of fraud when having a windshield repaired or replaced.
“If a rock cracks your windshield, the good news is the cost of the repair generally is covered under your auto insurance policy,” said Bob Passmore, PCI’s assistant vice president of personal lines policy. “In many cases, even if you’re traveling out of state, your insurer will partner with a company to come out and fix it so you can continue your trip without much of a hiccup. However, in states like Florida, we are seeing a major rise in the number of auto glass claims resulting from fraudsters that take advantage of the system.”
Auto glass repair schemes are becoming another example of assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse in Florida, according to PCI. “Some auto glass repair shops try to convince unsuspecting consumers to sign over their insurance benefits,” said Passmore. “These shops aren’t affiliated with the insurance companies. They may inflate the glass claim and then turn around and sue the insurance company, often without the policyholder’s knowledge.”
According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, in 2006, approximately 400 auto glass AOB lawsuits were filed against auto insurers. In 2016, nearly 20,000 lawsuits were filed.
PCI urges Florida consumers to beware of any representatives from glass repair shops who approach them at local car washes, gas stations, in parking lots, or even at their homes. “Fraudsters often approach consumers in a friendly manner with offers of waiving deductibles, cash rebates, gift cards or even steak dinners,” said Passmore. “They claim they will work with the consumer’s insurance company on a ‘free’ windshield replacement. With a quick signature on a form or iPad, a consumer could be signing away their insurance rights to the glass shop and entering into an insurance fraud scheme. That scheme ultimately drives up auto insurance rates and the overall costs of auto glass repair services. Florida consumers should always call their insurer before signing any documents.”
AOB abuse also has exploded in the homeowners insurance marketplace as well. Legislation designed to rein in the abuse failed to pass during the 2017 Legislative Session.
“The Florida Legislature needs to step in to protect consumers from AOB abuse,” said Passmore. “Data shows skyrocketing litigation is driving up insurance costs for consumers. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait another year for lawmakers to address this problem. In the meantime, we urge everyone to beware of any third-party representative who tries to convince you to sign over your insurance rights.”
PCI’s 9 Safety Tips for Summer Driving:
1. Avoid distracted driving. Don’t talk, text or use apps while driving. Put the phone down and just drive. Try to limit other distractions, such as eating or fiddling with controls, and be aware that having more passengers in the car multiplies the opportunity for distraction. Secure pets in the back of the car.
2. Designate a driver. If you plan to drink at a summer celebration, always designate a sober driver or arrange for a taxi or ride service.
3. Wear your seatbelt. Whether you’re taking a summer getaway or just running errands around town, buckle up and drive safely. Seat belts save lives and help prevent injuries. Also, make sure kids are in the proper car or booster seats.
4. Give yourself plenty of time. Plan ahead and allow extra travel time. With more people on the roads, often driving in unfamiliar territory, the potential for a traffic crash increases. Plan routes in advance when traveling to new destinations and be patient.
5. Pay attention to your speed. Observe speed limits, including lower speeds in work zones. Stay focused on the road and be aware of changing traffic patterns caused by construction. Be especially cautious around construction workers. They’re often working close to the highway and are at great risk.
6. Beware of AOB abuse. If you get a crack in your windshield, contact your insurance company as quickly as possible to begin the repair process. Beware of anyone who approaches you with offers of free repairs or tries to convince you to sign over your insurance benefits.
7. Beware of crash taxes. Although crash taxes have been banned or limited in several states, many cities, counties and fire districts will charge the at-fault driver for the emergency response costs of an auto accident. Fees can range from $100 to more than $2,000, and a typical insurance policy does not cover those costs.
8. Have a plan for roadside assistance. If you’re involved in an accident, beware of unscrupulous towing companies. Some towing companies take advantage of drivers after an accident by charging excessive fees and making it difficult for people to retrieve their cars. Have the phone number for your insurer or a roadside assistance program ready.
9. Update your proof of insurance. Before hitting the road, replace any expired insurance identification cards so you can provide current proof of insurance during a traffic stop.