Working together, the Consumer Protection Coalition (CPC) and National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have released two new video public service announcements (PSAs) warning consumers about Assignment of Benefits (AOB) auto glass fraud and abuse. Available in English and Spanish, the PSAs are intended to raise awareness and help protect Florida consumers from falling victim to auto glass insurance scams.
The 30- and 60-second video spots, available on YouTube as well as to media outlets, explain how what the organizations dub “windshield bullies” and AOB auto glass scams work and encourage consumers to contact the Florida Department of Financial Services if they believe they have been a target of fraud or abuse.
“Filing a fraudulent insurance claim in Florida is a crime, even if it’s a small claim like an auto glass repair or a complete windshield replacement when there was no damage to your vehicle. This is occurring every day in Florida as consumers are being solicited and offered inducements to file false or inflated auto glass insurance claims,” said Alan Haskins, vice president of government affairs for the NICB. “NICB supports The Consumer Protection Coalition in warning the public of these scams that take advantage of Florida consumers.”
The Florida Justice Reform Institute, using state databases, compiled information it says shows that AOB auto glass abuse continues to be a significant problem for Florida consumers, with more than 27,000 lawsuits filed in 2020, an increase over the prior year. Of those lawsuits filed, 30 attorneys accounted for 100 percent of all AOB auto glass lawsuits during the year, with one attorney alone accounting for 8,727 lawsuits.
“Windshield replacement lawsuits continue to swamp the courts,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute. “Vendors use assignments to seize the policyholder’s rights and benefits and file expensive lawsuits based on inflated claims. Many of these lawsuits even happen without the policyholder’s knowledge or informed consent. The Legislature acted boldly in 2019 to address a similar problem in property insurance claims, but out-of-control auto glass lawsuits continue to cost consumers more money.”
The scams often involve auto glass repair vendors who solicit unsuspecting drivers in public places such as car washes and store parking lots. The vendor will tell the motorist that they have a chip or crack in their windshield that can be repaired immediately, and that they will work directly with the driver’s insurer, if the driver simply signs a form. Sometimes the vendors even offer cash or gift incentives to obtain a signature.
Unbeknownst to them, the drivers are signing an Assignment of Benefits contractual document that transfers all their rights and benefits to their insurance claim over to the vendor – including the right to sue. The glass repair vendors then often submit claims to the driver’s auto insurer, inflating the cost of repairs. When the insurer disputes the bill, the vendor and a law firm they are working with in tandem file suit against the insurer – usually without the knowledge or consent of the auto insurance policyholder, who may be completely unaware that he or she is suing their own insurance company.
These auto glass lawsuits are highly incentivized by an existing “one-way attorney fee” provision in Florida law that allows the vendor and their law firm to collect legal fees from the insurer if they win the lawsuit, but doesn’t allow the insurer to collect fees from the windshield bully if the insurer prevails. The one-way attorney fee statute was originally intended to “level the playing field in disputes between a policyholder and their insurance company, and not to be hijacked by a third party in a commercial dispute.
“AOB auto glass abuse and litigation continues to be a major consumer problem that requires a legislative fix,” said Mark Wilson, CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which spearheads the Consumer Protection Coalition. “We applaud the Florida Legislature for passing reforms in 2019 that are successfully reining in AOB abuse in property insurance, but there is still work to be done on behalf of consumers related to AOB auto glass scams. We stand ready to work with elected leaders to end this problem, which is almost unheard of in other states.”
Florida State Senator Linda Stewart of Orlando has filed a bill for the 2021 legislative session, Senate Bill 906, to address AOB auto glass abuse and protect consumers.