A public adjusting firm is threatening to sue a Florida blogger who claims the adjusting firm is using a name that makes it sound like it is a government agency in soliciting business from homeowners insured by the state’s property insurer.
United States Adjusters threatened the suit against a blogger at Johnson Strategies, an insurance advocacy firm, after he named the firm as part of investigation into the role played by public adjusters handling claims from Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
In a letter to Johnson Strategies, the public adjusting firm said the blogger needed to “cease and desist and remove our name right away. Failure to do so will result in a suit, naming you for damage to our reputation.”
The blogger and principal in the consulting firm, Scott Johnson, is a former executive with the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.
Johnson said he would not retract from using the public adjuster firm’s name as a matter of free speech. He also said that in more than 400 blogs written in the past two years he has never had to make a correction. However, he said, he would seek legal counsel to look into the matter.
“In light of being threatened and to keep my record for due diligence, it seems appropriate to look deeper, consult counsel and eliminate any potential that I may have missed something,” Johnson wrote.
The controversy arose after Johnson provided a list of public adjusters that had handled more than $46 million in Citizens’ claims. In commenting on the list, Johnson wrote in his blog that the firm’s name “seems intended to make policyholders think they are with the government.”
The blog said that under Florida law, firms that use a logo “that implies that the solicitation was issued or distributed by a governmental agency or is sanctioned or endorsed by a governmental agency” could be found guilty of engaging in deceptive or misleading trade practices. He also wrote that federal law prohibits the use of the word ‘United States’ by insurance entities since it can be construed as false advertising.
“Whether using ‘United States’ or USA is a violation of anything is up to the Department of Financial Services or the feds,” Johnson wrote in his blog “But the words above are those of Florida lawmakers obviously concerned about the possibility of misleading solicitations by public adjusters, particularly after a catastrophe when people turn to governmental agencies for help.”
Christian Camara, Florida director for the think tank R Street Institute, said that the attempt by United States Adjusters to limit the blogger’s right to free speech is without merit. He also questioned the thinking behind the public adjuster’s threatening legal action.
“What would make a business threaten a lawsuit, knowing that it will likely draw more attention to a negative story and broaden the seemingly narrow-issue audience of a critical blog?” Camara asked.