A significant factor in Citizens Property’s less-than-stellar financial situation was the surge in sinkhole damage claims, especially here in “Sinkhole Alley,” as west-central Florida has come to be known. Some people have suggested that not all these sinkhole claims were legitimate, and there have been claims — some perhaps apocryphal and some not — of people taking their sinkhole damage payments and spending the money on things other than repairing the damage. In an effort to address such situations, Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would set up a program under Citizens Property that would oversee sinkhole damage payments and ensure the money is actually spent on sinkhole damage. State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is the bill’s sponsor. If Simpson’s bill were to be enacted, under the Citizens Sinkhole Stabilization Repair Program, policyholders with a sinkhole claim could select from a pool of qualified contractors, who would guarantee repairs with a 5-year warranty. In addition, the contractor that carried out the repairs would be required to correct faulty work. Sinkhole claims have generated a lot of lawsuits — and fees for lawyers — in recent years, so the state’s trial attorneys don’t like Simpson’s bill. A lot of the lawsuits came in the wake of 2011 legislation that sought to reduce the supposed sinkhole claims fraud by making it harder to file sinkhole damage claims. Simpson’s bill is another stab at dealing with the problem.
It’s doubtful state lawmakers considered the possibility of sinkhole claims fraud when it created Citizens Property in 2002. Once again, however, the law of unintended consequences has intruded on what appeared to be a good idea.