Florida Senior Suitability Law

John and Patricia Seibel were a Venice, Florida couple in their 80s who were sold $600,000 worth of annuities that could not be touched without large penalties for 15 years. On June 30, 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed into law Senate Bill 2082 (SB 2082), otherwise known as the “John and Patricia Seibel Act,” a bill that made significant changes to the Florida Insurance Code with regard to sales of life insurance and annuities.

The new law not only increased penalties for willfully unfair or deceptive life insurance and annuity sales practices but also required insurers and insurance agents to have an objectively reasonable bases for believing annuity recommendations to senior consumers were suitable. If an agent sells a person an investment he or she did not completely understand, that agent could be liable for that individual’s losses.

Attorney for Florida Senior Suitability Law Claims in Tampa, FL

Were you sold an annuity in Florida that involved costs or penalties that you were not originally made aware of? You will want to contact Germain Law Group, P.A. for help holding the negligent party accountable.

Tampa insurance lawyer Michael B. Germain represents clients in communities throughout Pinellas County, St. Lucie County, Charlotte County, Hillsborough County, Manatee County, and many others.

Call (813) 835-8888 right now to have our attorney provide a complete evaluation of your case during a free, confidential consultation.

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Hillsborough County Florida Senior Suitability Law Information Center

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Florida Senior Suitability Law Definitions

Florida Statute § 627.4554(3)(b) defines an annuity as “an insurance product under state law which is individually solicited, whether classified as an individual or group annuity.” Essentially, there are five different types of annuities: immediate annuities, deferred annuities, variable annuities, fixed annuities, and fixed-indexed annuities.

Under Florida Statute § 627.4554(5)(a), an agent or an insurer must have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommended purchase or exchange of an annuity to a consumer, which results in an insurance transaction or series of insurance transactions, is suitable for the consumer, based on the consumer’s suitability information, and that there is a reasonable basis to believe all of the following: 

  • The consumer has been reasonably informed of various features of the annuity, such as the potential surrender period and surrender charge; possible tax penalty if the consumer sells, exchanges, surrenders, or annuitizes the annuity; mortality and expense fees; investment advisory fees; potential charges for and features of riders; limitations on interest returns; insurance and investment components; and market risk;
  • The consumer would benefit from certain features of the annuity, such as tax-deferred growth, annuitization, or the death or living benefit; and
  • The particular annuity as a whole, the underlying subaccounts to which funds are allocated at the time of purchase or exchange of the annuity, and riders and similar product enhancements, if any, are suitable; and, in the case of an exchange or replacement, the transaction as a whole is suitable for the particular consumer based on his or her suitability information.

In the case of an exchange or replacement of an annuity, there also must be a reasonable basis to believe the exchange or replacement is suitable after considering whether the consumer:

  • Will incur a surrender charge; be subject to the commencement of a new surrender period; lose existing benefits, such as death, living, or other contractual benefits; or be subject to increased fees, investment advisory fees, or charges for riders and similar product enhancements; 
  • Would benefit from product enhancements and improvements; and
  • Has had another annuity exchange or replacement, including an exchange or replacement within the preceding 36 months.

The phrase “suitability information” is defined under Florida Statute § 627.4554(3)(g) as meaning information related to the consumer which is reasonably appropriate to determine the suitability of a recommendation made to the consumer, including the following:

  • Age;
  • Annual income; 
  • Financial situation and needs, including the financial resources used for funding the annuity;
  • Financial experience;
  • Financial objectives;
  • Intended use of the annuity;
  • Financial time horizon;
  • Existing assets, including investment and life insurance holdings;
  • Liquidity needs; 
  • Liquid net worth;
  • Risk tolerance; and 
  • Tax status.

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Protections Under Florida Senior Suitability Law in Hillsborough County

Some of the major provisions of SB 2082 included amending Florida Statute § 627.805 to provide that the Department of Financial Services and the Office of Insurance Regulation regulate the issuance and sale of variable and indeterminate value contracts. 

The Office of Financial Regulation regulates the sale of variable and indeterminate value contracts pursuant to its authority under Chapter 517 of the Florida Statutes, while the Department of Financial Services (and the Financial Services Commission, when applicable) will adopt rules pursuant to Florida Statutes §§ 120.536(1) and 120.54 to implement this part. 

In combination with the Homeowner’s Bill of Rights Act, the omnibus property insurance reform bill also signed by Governor Crist in 2008, the John and Patricia Seibel Act also increased penalties for violations of the Florida Unfair Insurance Trade Practices Act. Whereas an insurer once faced fines of $20,000 for a single willful violation up to an aggregate fine of $100,000, the penalties were increased to $40,000 for a single willful violation up to an aggregate fine of $250,000.

Additionally, every non-willful violation is now punishable by fines of up to $5,000 instead of $2,500, up to a maximum aggregate amount of $50,000 instead of $10,000. Willful violations are punishable by administrative fines of $30,000 instead of $20,000, up to $250,000 instead of $100,000. 

The John and Patricia Seibel Act also created two new criminal offenses, which are defined as follows:

Churning under Florida Statute § 626.9541(1)(aa) is defined as “the practice whereby policy values in an existing life insurance policy or annuity contract, including, but not limited to, cash, loan values, or dividend values, and in any riders to that policy or contract, are directly or indirectly used to purchase another insurance policy or annuity contract with that same insurer for the purpose of earning additional premiums, fees, commissions, or other compensation”:

  • Without an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the replacement or extraction will result in an actual and demonstrable benefit to the policyholder;
  • In a fashion that is fraudulent, deceptive, or otherwise misleading or that involves a deceptive omission;
  • When the applicant is not informed that the policy values including cash values, dividends, and other assets of the existing policy or contract will be reduced, forfeited, or used in the purchase of the replacing or additional policy or contract, if this is the case; or
  • Without informing the applicant that the replacing or additional policy or contract will not be a paid-up policy or that additional premiums will be due if this is the case.

Churning by an insurer or an agent is an unfair method of competition and an unfair or deceptive act or practice. Florida Statute § 626.9541(1)(l) also establishes the offense of twisting, which is defined as, “[k]nowingly making any misleading representations or incomplete or fraudulent comparisons or fraudulent material omissions of or with respect to any insurance policies or insurers for the purpose of inducing, or tending to induce, any person to lapse, forfeit, surrender, terminate, retain, pledge, assign, borrow on, or convert any insurance policy or to take out a policy of insurance in another insurer.”

Florida Senior Suitability Law Resources

Florida Statute § 627.4554 | Annuity investments — View the full text of one of the state laws that was amended by the John and Patricia Seibel Act. You can find definitions of key terms as well as the duties of insurers and agents. The statute also lists transactions that are exempt from the law.

Florida Senate Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement | CS/CS/SB 2082 — View a Florida Senate Statement of Substantial Changes made to Florida Statutes §§ 626.171, 626.2815, 626.551, 626.9521, 626.9541, 626.99, and 627.4554 by the John and Patricia Seibel Act. You can read a summary of the bill as well as the effects of the proposed changes. You can also read about the bill’s fiscal impact on the private and government sectors.

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Find a Florida Senior Suitability Law Claims Lawyer in Tampa, FL

If you were sold an annuity or life insurance policy in Florida without being fully informed of the related costs or penalties, you would want to retain legal counsel immediately. Germain Law Group, P.A. helps individuals in Pasco County, Sarasota County, Brevard County, Hillsborough County, Indian River County, and many other surrounding areas.

Michael B. Germain is an experienced insurance attorney in Tampa who has received Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent Rating, the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standard. He can review your case and help you understand all of your legal options when you call (813) 835-8888 or fill out an online contact form to set up a free, confidential consultation.

This article was last updated on Friday, February 16, 2018.