Sarasota Florida News, Sarasota Weather, Sports and Business | Florida Property Insurance Investigation | HeraldTribune.com | Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Introduction

A HERALD-TRIBUNE INVESTIGATION
   For five years, Floridians have struggled to fix the state's property insurance system, ricocheting between attempts to appease the industry and punish it.
   They've seen premiums rise as much as 350 percent on the coast and witnessed the cancellation of 2 million policies. Thousands of homeowners now can only find insurance from a state pool that many believe could not pay its bills after a major hurricane.
   Despite no hurricanes in five years, Florida insurers are demanding yet more money from homeowners. At the same time, the capital that insurers have on hand to pay claims has shrunk.
   The Herald-Tribune spent more than a year examining the Florida insurance market in an attempt to find out why. These stories and applications are the result.

Floridians at risk

Millions of homeowners get their insurance from tiny, untested companies that have a few million dollars in the bank but insure billions worth of property ... READ MORE
• Six insurers with red flags
A look at potentially problematic numbers for insurers
• Insurers with no red flags
Data and scores for a handful of healthy companies
• Tips for choosing an insurance carrier
Experts offer advice on how to ease your insurance worries
• Four tests that helped to generate scores
With no public scores available, experts and the H-T build a scale

Insurers make millions

Investors and executives in 2008 moved $1.9 billion in policyholder money out of heavily regulated insurers, where profits are capped and dividends restricted, to separate companies that are owned by the same people, housed at the same address and sometimes use the same employees ... READ MORE
• As rates rose, perks and pay kept flowing
Even as Florida property insurers complained of losses, they funneled millions to executives and investors
• Not saving for a rainy day
Instead of preparing for the next big storm, companies dished out bonuses and rewards

Regulators gamble on discounts

State officials are gambling that an unorthodox insurer -- People's Trust -- can overcome past violations and successfully offer discount rates ... READ MORE
Stepping up the pressure on insurers
Florida regulators ramp up pressure on property insurers, ordering four to return money to operations
• How insurance regulators put Florida homeowners at risk
Allowing struggling insurers to remain open has become an alarming part of Florida regulatory strategy
(TIMELINE, VIDEO)
• Loose reins, despite concerns
Three stories highlight how regulators looked past warning signs

Billions sent overseas

Reinsurance firms profit as reserves dwindle, with two-thirds of property insurance premiums now leaving Florida as unregulated payments to largely offshore reinsurers ... READ MORE
How Bermuda rigs insurance rates in Florida
In early 2006, after two deadly hurricane seasons, Floridians took another hit as Bermuda reinsurance companies seized on the crisis to double or triple rates while cutting coverage
• Bermuda's record is not spotless
Regulators in other states unleashed investigations on offshore underwriters
• Jeb Bush sought federal solution
Former Florida governor called for a national catastrophe fund in 2005
• How we did the math
Complex databases, thousands of pages of reports and more behind the investigation

A dubious model

RMS, a multimillion-dollar company that helps insurers estimate hurricane losses and other risks, tabbed four hand-picked scientists and rewrote hurricane risk modeling, creating an $82 billion gap they tried to fill by raising rates ... READ MORE
Insurers' computer models deeply flawed
A Herald-Tribune review of regulatory filings and interviews with experts found insurers deciding which model to use, or how to use it, to produce higher rates
• Checking an insurer's
complaint record

Savvy homeowners always check an insurer's complaint record before signing a contract.
• More storms than ever?
Yes. No. Maybe.

The common insurance industry claim that hurricanes are on the rise lacks an essential ingredient -- scientific agreement.

Cashing in

Insurer claimed loudly and often it had to drop storm coverage in Florida or face financial disaster, creating a market in which it now commands among the highest coverage rates in the world ... READ MORE

Pain deepens

Florida insurers continue to claim they are losing money, though an investigation shows their figures sometimes hide profits ... READ MORE
A new computer model dramatically raises the risk of a hurricane in parts of Florida previously thought safe, and is almost certain to set off rate increases and cancellations ... READ MORE
After a fifth year without a hurricane to generate storm claims, even more Floridians today buy their private home protection from an insurance carrier at financial risk ... READ MORE

Applications, reactions and more

APPLICATIONS
Compare Florida's property insurers with our web-based application, available below or on a standalone page.
On the go?
Use your smartphone browser to get information on Florida property insurers ... FIND IT
ABOUT THE WRITER

Paige St. John has been on the investigative team at the Herald-Tribune since 2008, and worked as a reporter covering Florida politics, disasters and the environment.