Looks like Palm Coast Travel, the Boca Raton, Fla., agency accused by the state of Florida of selling unauthorized travel insurance, while at the same time trying to sue one of its own customers and me into silence, has quietly negotiated a settlement with insurance regulators.
Under the agreement (PDF), which was signed today, Palm Coast Travel, which also does business online as Smartcruiser.com, has agreed to cease and desist selling unauthorized insurance and will pay a $2,500 fine as well as restitution to its customers affected by the purchase of an unauthorized insurance policy. It will be placed on 18 months’ probation and has agreed not to sell unauthorized insurance in the future.
The consent order is practically identical to a draft settlement agreement (PDF) that has been circulating between Palm Coast Travel and insurance regulators since last summer, and which I obtained after filing a public records request.
But some of the points merit a closer look.
Here’s the “lead” as they say in journalism:
Respondents shall CEASE AND DESIST from representing any unauthorized insurers, including but not limited to Prime Travel Protection, Inc.;
SMOLINSKI AND ASSOCIATES, INC., D/B/A PALM COAST TRAVEL (“Palm Coast Travel”) has applied for a Section 626.32l(l)(c), Florida Statutes, resident travel firm (2-41) license. Upon entry of this Consent Order, the Department shall approve Palm Coast Travel’s application for a Section 626.32l(l)(c), Florida Statutes, resident travel firm (2-41) license.
In other words, stop selling unauthorized insurance and get a license. Palm Coast Travel appears to have already done that.
The state would also fine Palm Coast Travel.
Respondents shall pay, jointly, an administrative penalty in the amount of TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($2,500.00) within thirty (30) calendar days of the entry of this Consent Order.
And here’s the language regarding probation:
Upon issuance of the resident travel firm (2-41) license, Palm Coast Travel shall be placed on probation, pursuant to Section 626.691, Florida Statutes, for a period of eighteen (18) months. Such probation is self-terminating at the end of the eighteen (18) month period.
As a condition of probation, Palm Coast Travel shall comply with all the terms and conditions of the Settlement Stipulation for Consent Order and this Consent Order and shall strictly adhere to all provisions of the Florida Insurance Code and Rules of the Department.
As a specific condition of probation and in order to determine compliance with the Settlement Stipulation and this Consent Order, Respondent shall give the Department, upon the Department’s request, full and immediate access to all books and records relating to Palm Coast Travel’s insurance business;
Whoa. Open the books to the government. How interesting.
Palm Coast Travel would also agree to pay all valid insurance claims — which, by the state’s own estimates, it has largely done.
Whether known to the Department or presently known just to Respondents, as to those clients whose travel departure date has passed and who have an outstanding travel insurance claim, Respondents shall, within sixty (60) days following the issuance of this Consent Order, make complete financial restitution regarding all unpaid valid travel insurance claims resulting from Respondents having placed clients with an unauthorized insurer.
So what does all of this mean?
It essentially means Palm Coast Travel sold unauthorized travel insurance. It means the government has told it to stop selling unauthorized insurance — which is exactly what they’re suing me for saying.
The company didn’t want to take its chances in front of an administrative law judge next month. Think they’re going to risk taking my frivolous case to court?
Update (3/14): Palm Coast Travel’s attorney, Dan Newman, says his client won’t drop the suit. Why? Two likely explanations come to mind. Either he or his client have lost their grip on reality or this is a cynical attempt to run up Palm Coast’s legal bills. Perhaps it’s a little of both. I’ll continue to cover this story here, of course.