Florida Insurer Out of Business Despite No Major Storm in 2011

Published December 8, 2011

November 30 marked the official end of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, and despite significant losses caused by Hurricane Irene, the most sensitive coastal markets in the Southeast and Gulf Coast states once again dodged a bullet.

But despite the fact that the Sunshine State has managed to avoid a hurricane strike—outside of Hurricane Gustav brushing the Keys before tracking into central Louisiana in August 2008—since Wilma in 2005, domestic property insurers continue to go belly-up. The latest casualty is Tampa-based HomeWise Insurance Co., which was placed in liquidation three months after it lost its sole financial strength rating and saw affiliate HomeWise Preferred placed under state control.

The Insurance Information Institute’s blog notes the 2011 season featured 19 named storms, tied with 1887, 1995, and 2010 for the third-highest total ever. There were seven hurricanes and three so-called “major” hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

However, Irene was the lone hurricane to make U.S. landfall and the first hurricane since Ike in 2008. A major hurricane hasn’t struck the United States since Wilma in 2005. Irene is estimated by the Insurance Services Office to have caused $4.3 billion in insured damages and $52.1 million in claims paid by the National Flood Insurance Program.

HomeWise in Liquidation

HomeWise had already sold its remaining Florida book of business to Homeowners Choice Insurance Co., along with $53 million of unearned premium, before being placed in liquidation. (Unearned premium is money policyholders have paid in advance for coverage and which the insurer has not yet provided because the full term of coverage has not expired.) Homeowners Choice was required to infuse the business with $10 million of surplus to complete the deal. (Surplus is the difference between total admitted assets and liabilities. The more surplus an insurer has, the more financial strength it has and the more insurance coverage it can provide.) HomeWise also sold its Louisiana book of business, along with $25 million in premiums, to Montana-based Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp.

Under the liquidation order, HomeWise must transfer all remaining assets to the state, which will use asset sales in an attempt to pay off the company’s creditors. Any outstanding claims from before Nov. 1 will be transferred to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association.

R. J. Lehmann ([email protected]) is deputy director of The Heartland Institute’s Center on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate.