As Florida’s annual hurricane season begins, we begin to see and hear that word in news reports, ads, and Public Service Announcements. Naturally, it finds its way into everyday conversation. We think back to the recent hurricanes Michael, Irma, and Matthew. The wise ones among us review emergency supplies and plans. Florida and federal emergency management agencies do, too. We don’t know whether we’ll get hit this year. If we do, we don’t know when and where. We do know, though, that hurricane season is Florida’s state of emergency season. But what does “state of emergency” actually mean?
FLORIDA: STATE OF EMERGENCY?
Let’s clear one thing up first. Florida is the Sunshine State, not the State of Emergency. True, we do have our emergencies here from time to time. But the term “state of emergency” (SOE) means the Governor of Florida has declared one is in effect. The declaration a legal act, defined in Florida state law. Anyway, states of emergency are declared for specific counties, under the law, not for the state as a whole.
Simply put, the declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor grants the Governor greater authority. He or she has the legal power to cut through red tape, use State assets, order evacuations, and even take over private property, with compensation. Sounds like becoming a dictator, but it’s not like that. The law makes it clear that the unusual actions a Governor takes under an SOE can’t be random. Any such acts have to be reasonably related to the emergency. Steps that serve the people of Florida. Preparation, protection, relief, mitigation. The Florida Legislature, too, has the power to order the Governor to rescind a declared state of emergency. In any case, the Governor’s declaration expires after 60 days.
PUBLIC ADJUSTERS IN AN SOE
From the viewpoint of Florida public adjusters, one important effect of an SOE relates to fees. Under normal conditions, Florida law caps public adjusters’ fees at 20% of the money they recover for clients. Under a state of emergency, the law reduces that cap to 10%. This is intended to protect policyholders under conditions of high stress. It’s good for consumers.
There are, of course, certain conditions. One, the 10% fee cap applies only to claims for damages related to the emergency condition. For example, Governor Scott declared a state of emergency in 2018 for a red tide outbreak in Southwest Florida. A Charlotte County homeowner’s insurance claim for damage to his roof by a falling tree during that SOE? The adjuster’s fee would not be capped at 10% but at the normal 20%. The falling tree and its damage had nothing to do with the red tide.
There are more conditions and limitations on the reduced cap on public adjusters’ fees during states of emergency. One is that the 10% cap applies only to valid claims made within one year of a declaration of an SOE. It’s a little complex, but we know the law well and make sure that if the 10% cap applies to a claim, we apply it.