May 17, 2016 – Charles Elmore
Consumer advocates are scratching their heads over a Florida judge’s ruling that would let State Farm — and potentially every other property insurer in the
state — hide information that has been public for years. Read the ruling here.
If Leon County Circuit Judge James C. Hankinson grappled with implications for consumers or the public in overturning a long-established system, advocates had a tough time finding any indication of that in the written order.
“Obviously the public interest in open data must be given weight and voice in any fair review of an insurer’s claim of trade secret status,” said J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. “The public has a right to be able to review data that might disclose redlining or other unfair practices. Insurers, in my experience, want everything to be secret. I have seen newspaper articles labeled as secret by insurers.”
It is “still hard to understand how information that had routinely been public could transform into a trade secret,” said Birny Birnbaum, executive director of the Center for Economic Justice in Texas. “At best, it shows that demonstration of a trade secret is trivial and the overly broad trade secret exemption to public information laws undermines public accountability.”
Speaking of secrecy, State Farm announced it will no longer talk to The Palm Beach Post because of its coverage of the issue.
“To cut off access to critically important information — information that has been publicly available for years — about the insurance industry leaves the public in the dark about an issue that is of critical concern to property owners across the state,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said in March. [READ MORE]