Florida Home Insurance Premium Hikes: TAKE ACTION

Rate increases are causing anxiety among Florida homeowners. Many can share tales of recent rate hikes that hint at a dim future:

If Florida home insurance costs continue to spike, who will be able to afford Sunshine State home ownership?

Understand why rate increases are occuring and take action to protect your Florida home insurance premium.

Here’s the down-low:

  • Within the state, losses have proved extensive and the effects of storms are ongoing. Thanks to hurricane losses from Wilma and Katrina, the total amount of insurers in the state underwriting property policies has dwindled. Many insurers who have remained find themselves still handling claims from Hurricane Irma.

While storm severity and frequency have caused insurance rate increases, so has insurance fraud. Fortunately, there are actions Floridians like you can take to curb this practice:

  • Educate yourself about insurance fraud.
  • Don’t become an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) victim (Download the Consumer Protection Coalition’s guide and learn how to avoid AOB fraud and abuse).
  • Protect your pocketbook from shady contractors.
  • Suspect fraud? Notify your home insurance company immediately and report the concern to the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud online or by calling 1-800-378-0445.

Here’s what you can do to be part of the change:

The Florida legislature is considering proposals that address the abuses driving costs ever-upward. Contact Governor Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson and express support for property insurance litigation and fraud reforms. Make your voice heard and tell the Florida Legislature to bring insurance claim fraud and abuse under control.  Share your own story and how these rate increases impact your ability to maintain property insurance in the Sunshine State.

For more information regarding Florida property insurance rate hikes, why this is happening and what you can do, read this Reuters article. After you do, pick up the phone and call:

Governor Ron DeSantis at 850-717-9337
Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls at 850-717-5000
Senate President Wilton Simpson at 850-487-5229

Together, we can present a united front to fight against fraud and undue property rate increases.

Engine Cut-Off Switch Requirement a Go

Own a vessel less than 26 feet in length? Prepare to be safer out on the water.

A decision that will no doubt have far-reaching boating safety implications has finally been announced: An engine cut-off switch (ECOS) and accompanied ECOS link (ECOSL) is now a must for recreational boaters. The U.S. Coast Guard shared the new mandate, which involves vessels less than 26 feet in length and becomes effective April 1, 2021. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 spells out the mandate, which is found in Section 8316.

Any captain can tell you that the ECOSL has the potential to save lives. Attaching the vessel operator to a switch allows the engine to immediately shut off in the event that the vessel is displaced. Instead of engines churning an out of control vessel into danger, the captain with an ECOSL has the ability to right the craft and potentially prevent disaster. It’s a preventive measure; many have argued for years that it’s a vital one.

Here’s how it works: A cord fixed to an ECOS close to the helm or even affixed to the motor itself senses tension. If that tension occurs, the ECOSL released itself from the ECOS. This means the motor ceases to run, and this happens automatically. This is a vast improvement upon the other way a driver of a boat would respond to an out of control situation. And it’s so easy to operate; all it takes in most situations is for the driver of a vessel to don a lanyard that triggers an engine shutoff when overstretched.

Imagine the implications of this safety protocol: You’re driving a vessel and navigating through beautiful blue water – until something happens and the boat spirals out of control. In that quick moment, it is possible that the captain will be able to shut off the engines. It’s also possible that the panic may cause that person to freeze, or that the sudden turbulence or rogue wave has swept him/her off the helm. Such situations arise often out on the water, where conditions can morph from predictably calm to turbulent in a moment.

Now, engine shutoff in such a situation is a foregone conclusion. The ECOS and accompanying ECOS link ensure it. And that captain, who may have otherwise been scrambling to reach the steering counsel, no longer needs to worry. The craft will immediately halt its forward motion, thanks to the engine cutoff device that is now mandatory. It’s no over-exaggeration to say that it’s a potential lifesaver.

Boats included in the mandate

So who absolutely has to have (and use) that engine shutoff switch? Answer ‘yes’ to the below specifications, and you are required to not only have one on board, but to use it.

  • The vessel measures less than 26 feet long and is capable of greater than 115lbs static thrust.
  • The vessel was built January 2020 or later.
  • Yours is a recreational vessel. Only such vessels fall under the mandate. Therefore, vessels for other use are not required to feature the engine cut-off switch

Boats not included in the mandate

Your vessel is not required to have the ECOS if:

  • The primary helm is housed in an internal cabin.
  • The vessel was constructed prior to January 2020.
  • The vessel is earmarked for law enforcement. These vessels, and other vessels owned by the government, are not required to have the switch.

Should I use a shut-off switch even if I’m not required to?

  • It stands to reason that vessels manufactured before 2020 need a shutoff switch as well. The alternative is just too disastrous to ponder. Should you fall into the water while driving, the boat could maneuver its way toward you, creating a real hazard – or it could simply keep motoring away into the sunset, sans passengers.
  • Therefore, YES – you should use a shut-off switch (or some sort of engine kill mechanism) even if the law does not require you to. That kill switch has a double meaning, to be sure: by killing the engine, it maintains your own safety (and those of your passengers).

What other options are available?

  • Like so many advancements, the shut-off switch has also gone wire-free. Using a wireless engine cut-off device frees the driver from having to deal with a lanyard-type scenario, but it does offer some limitations. If the driver is somehow tossed from the helm, for example, it will not offer protection. Also, passengers must carry their own connected fobs if they wish to extend the protection to themselves.

Is anything else required in tandem with the shut-off switch?

  • Maintenance of the switch is required for the boat’s lifetime. And though it must be in good working order, it is not necessary to employ it during docking or idling. After all, the scenario it is designed to prevent involves an out of control vessel that could potentially pose a danger to passengers or others who are out on the water. Keep in mind also that though the cut-off switch can quickly resolve what could have been a dangerous situation, it is also extremely simple to reengage the switch and resume normal boating operations.

What else can I do to foster a safe boating environment aboard my vessel?

  • Take full responsibility for the safety of your passengers by adhering to Coast Guard safety recommendations. That means a life vest for everyone on board, never driving a boat while inebriated, completing boating safety courses and having your vessel inspected annually by the U.S. Coast Guard, United States Power Squadron or vessel examiners who work through your state’s boating agency.
  • Oh, and embrace the shut-off switch requirement and adhere to it religiously. This requirement has been a long time coming. Accidents caused by wayward, out of control recreational vessels will hopefully soon be a distant memory.

Find information about why ECOS and ECOSL are now safety measures that are required for many waterway vessels here. Whether you use an ECOS and ECOSL or not, be safe out there on the water. And before you ever leave the dock, contact your marine insurance advisor at W3 Insurance to make sure you’re covered.

Be Well, St. Pete!

Defining and Achieving Wellness: Tips from a Wellness Coordinator

I like to say that wellness is the ‘fourth W’ at W3 Insurance. As the wellness coordinator for the St. Petersburg-based company, I spend my days helping clients achieve healthy workplace outcomes. That includes my own employer, which was recently named a Healthier Together Gold Partner, and it means something different to each employee group. Throughout my years crafting programs to nudge people toward healthier lives, I’ve gathered an advice tidbit or two (or four, of course). Whether you are part of a workplace that could use a revamped wellness focus or you’re simply an individual who wants to be healthier, read onward.

Here’s how to be well, St. Pete – from a veteran wellness coordinator’s perspective.

  • Repeat after me: Wellness is not synonymous merely with weight loss or fitness.
    Too often, people see ‘wellness program’ and immediately think their employer is going to sanction a Biggest Loser competition or yank the break room pastries in favor for apple baskets. Both are solid ideas, but do they address a business’s unique challenges? Do they address yours?W3 Insurance client populations vary too much for such a general definition of wellness to apply. A manufacturing plant, for example, may see musculoskeletal issues among employees and need a strategy to address them. Office employees tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety; they benefit from coping strategies. A workplace that struggles with smoking cessation needs exposure to quitting tools.
  • Focused efforts are always more helpful than general initiatives.
    Wellness consultants are by nature strategists. When I work with one of our benefits clients, for example, I look at claims data and listen closely to the HR department’s assessment of needs. How can we help people with high blood pressure and other risk factors?  Perhaps we survey the employee population, anonymously: What do you need help with? What would you like to see as part of the company wellness program? Instead of being a generalist, I try to be specific and ask how I can assist this particular group with its wellness roadblocks – and then, I make a plan with the employer.Individuals striving for wellness should be similarly specific. What are you hoping to achieve? How will you get there? Make a plan – and follow it.
  • Help is widespread.
    Once it’s clear where the wellness focus needs to be, it’s time to find resources. Luckily, they’re widespread. If you’re an individual seeking wellness assistance, take a good look at your insurance program. It may include more help than you ever believed possible. Often, the insurance carrier has plenty of informative materials. Many carriers offer free programs for weight loss, diabetes prevention, stress management, health coaching and mindfulness. Carriers may even offer incentives to employees who embark upon exercise plans, for example, or points to redeem for merchandise as part of activity program participation.
  • Regularly take stock of what’s working – and what isn’t.
    Once I help an employer develop a plan to address the wellness concerns of their employee population, I help to promote that plan through multiple media sources. We decide on budget for the program and include any incentives. Quarterly, we review the data together and adjust as necessary to keep moving toward our goals.This review strategy works for the person looking to achieve wellness on their own as well. If you feel as if what you are doing is not moving you forward toward desired wellness outcomes, take stock of how you’re going about the journey. It may be time to pivot.

I’ll leave you with this truism: Wellness is not one-size-fits-all. Every employer population, and each individual person, has their own journey to travel in order to achieve it. Good luck to you as you embark upon your wellness quest!

Trish Blocker recently celebrated eight years at W3 Insurance. She has been in the employee wellness space for eleven years and loves her job of helping clients help their employees. She enjoys spending time with her family, whether that means boating, golfing or attending her son’s lacrosse games. On weekdays she starts her day off with an early morning bootcamp class, She also meditates, if even for five minutes, during her lunch break.

Stay Safe and in-the-know with Uninsured Motorist Coverage

What About Uninsured Motorist Coverage? Should I elect or reject coverage?

If you or a resident relative are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver and you or the relative (and even passengers in your vehicle) are injured, who will pay for the medical expenses, lost wages, emotional distress or pain and suffering sustained due to the accident? The other driver may not have insurance or may have low bodily injury liability limits. Some protection will be available with Personal Injury Protection coverage on your automobile policy for you and your resident relative, but PIP coverage is typically $10,000.

What if the medical bills and expenses are close to $100,000 each? If you elect to carry Uninsured Motorist bodily injury coverage, there would be coverage available up to the selected limit.

Total rejection of uninsured motorist coverage can lead to a worst-case scenario that no one wants to experience: no coverage. You, your resident relative, or a passenger in your vehicle, then has to pay out of pocket for their expenses. Even if all injured parties have health insurance, there could be expenses not covered by health insurance. Examples include lost wages, emotional distress and pain and suffering.

Not long ago, Florida ranked 1st for the highest percentage of uninsured motorists. That’s a startling statistic – and yet another reason to reconsider adding or stacking uninsured motorist coverage to your policy.

We suggest you elect the same limits of uninsured motorist coverage for all insurance policies, you should check for gaps in coverage. If your auto policy has 250/500 and your motorcycle policy has 100/300, you are not getting the same coverage from one policy to the next.

Stacked or Non-Stacked Uninsured Motorist coverage: What’s the difference?

Let’s picture uninsured motorist coverage as buckets filled with insurance protection. Each vehicle on a policy has a bucket of coverage. Each bucket contains uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage of 100/300 ($100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident) and there are three vehicles on the policy.

There would be three buckets, one for each vehicle, filled with 100/300 limits.

If the automobile policy has non-stacked uninsured motorist coverage, each vehicle has 100/300 coverage available for each vehicle individually. If the policy holder or a covered resident relative are injured by an uninsured driver, there is only the one bucket of coverage available for the vehicle involved in the accident.

Now, use this same example but change the coverage to stacked uninsured motorist. All buckets of coverage are stacked together to give three times the amount of coverage to the one car involved in the accident. Therefore, the available coverage would be 300/900.

Please keep in mind that the stacked limit will change if the number of vehicles on the automobile policy changes. Let’s say you delete a vehicle – then the maximum limit would change to 200/600 because there are two vehicles on the policy.

Stacking uninsured motorist coverage, selecting coverage limits, or rejecting coverage completely, is a personal decision. We recommend our clients consider stacked limits.

Workplace COVID-19 Challenges

Answering Questions About Face Masks, Vaccination Liability and More

Welcome to Workplace Version 2021: Cubicles stand emptied of their former occupants, who gather from home on laptop Zoom calls. The remaining office workers wouldn’t dream of leaving a communal birthday cake in the breakroom. Where did you get your latest mask? is standard water cooler banter (though everyone totes their own pre-filled water bottle these days). So much has changed in such a short amount of time; it can be tough for employers and employees alike to know what is admissible in the workplace.

Employers have questions:

  • Can I require employees to elect the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • What do I do if an employee refuses to wear a face mask?
  • Are there privacy issues as we track employees who receive the vaccine?

Employees have questions:

  • What if my child’s daycare or school closes or my child becomes quarantined? Can this affect my employment?
  • If I have a disability, can my employer still require me to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Is my employer required to let me work from home?

W3 Insurance and Janet McEnery, a labor and employment attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, have answers. During a February 17 virtual webinar entitled Workplace COVID-19 Issues in 2021: Vaccinations, Face Mask Challenges, Extended Work from Home Orders and Incentives, Ms. McEnery, JD will address some of the frequent questions employers and employees are asking. These include (but are not limited to) the following queries:

Can I require my employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Total workplace vaccination seems like a reasonable request. Everyone vaccinated means everyone back to the office, right? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, many employers can reasonably require employees to be vaccinated. Loopholes exist for the disabled and for those who harbor sincere religious objection. Depending on the daily work situation, mandatory vaccination may make total sense – as it does with health care workers or others who come into contact with the public often – and less sense if all or the majority of employees work remotely.

Keep in mind that when the vaccine becomes widely available, employers could be liable if they do not require it. The employer must provide a safe and healthy work environment, as spelled out by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If an employee does contract COVID-19 and believes it is due to their employer’s lax vaccination stance, the employer may face legal action.

Am I able to require proof of COVID-19 antibodies?

This is a ‘hard no.’ The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employer-mandated antibody testing as a requirement for return to workplace activities.

What about a face mask mandate? Am I able to require them in the workplace?

Protective gear, social distancing and face masks: they’re the triumvirate of pandemic control. They’re also an employer’s right to require, but with caveats. For example, employers can require said gear and adherence to certain social distancing mandates. The OSHA recommendation is that employers encourage face coverings in the workplace, though in some situations they are not feasible (in an environment where chemicals may collect within the mask, for example).

If an employee states a religious reason or reports that disability prevents such an election, the employer must provide another option. This does not mean an employer has to drastically change workplace protocol, as any action that represents ‘an undue hardship’ is not required.

What do I do if an employee refuses to use a face mask?

Look to the root cause. Is it because the employee has a serious health condition that is covered under FMLA or a disability covered by the ADA? The employer can require the employee provide FMLA certification (this is completed by their health care provider) showing they are not able to perform the functions of their job with a mask as a result of their health condition. Reasonable accommodation under the ADA is also a feasible argument for anti-maskers. The employer may ask for reasonable documentation from the employee.

Florida follows the at-will employment doctrine; if an employee does not give sufficient proof that they are unable to wear a mask because of a valid reason, the employer is within their legal grounds to terminate.

Am I able to ask employees if a family member has COVID-19?

No. GINA (The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits this.

If an employee misses work and I suspect it is because of COVID-19, can I ask them why they were absent?

If an employee misses work for any reason, you are within your rights as an employer to ask the cause.

What if an employee states a religious reason for their reluctance to vaccinate?

If the religious reason is sincere, the employee may not be required to vaccinate. An employer may ask for proof, but this will open them up to potential legal action from the employee. Keep in mind that an employee who states that they just do not believe in vaccines cannot submit this belief as a valid reason not to vaccinate.

Still have questions about COVID-19 and how to make the right decisions regarding work life? Register for the upcoming webinar here.