Since 2007, litigation costs and claims settlements have caused homeowners insurance premiums to increase in Washington State, as a law designed to protect consumers does more harm than good, according to an Insurance Research Council (IRC) study.
At issue is Washington State's three-year-old Insurance Fair Conduct Act, which created the lowest standards in the nation for consumers to sue an insurance company when they felt a claim was handled in bad faith. Under the Washington law, insurance companies can be sued for three times damages plus attorneys fees. Additionally, consumers can go to court 20 days after notifying the Washington State insurance commissioner of their plan to take an insurance company to court.
According to IRC, thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the Insurance Fair Conduct Act took effect, including more than 150 lawsuits in the first three months of 2011. Furthermore, the study found that the legislation may have resulted in $190 million in increased homeowners insurance costs over a two-year period.
"The threat of costly litigation and exposure to court-awarded treble damages and attorney fees has forced insurers to settle more claims with little investigation or pay claims in excess of their true value," said Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) assistant vice president Kenton Brince in a press release.