Victims of unlicensed travel insurance strike back in class action suit

Looks as if the unlicensed insurance scandal — that’s right, the one that got me sued for defamation earlier this year — isn’t over yet.

As I reported earlier this week, Florida appeared to conclude its investigation with a surprise consent order against Revelex, an online booking company.

But now Revelex, as well as several individuals and travel agencies who are alleged to have been involved in the sale of these unlicensed insurance products are on the receiving end of a class action lawsuit (PDF) filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court (case number BC447277).

The list of defendants is long, but it includes some names that will be familiar to readers of this site, including Prime Travel Protection, Smart Travel Group and Vacation Superstore Network, as well as their principals.

The case, which has been filed by Edwin Stewart Trebbe and seeks class action status, alleges certain companies named in his suit knowingly sold a “phony travel insurance policy”. Trebbe, a California resident, bought a Prime Travel Protection policy and claims that he suffered a loss covered under the terms of the plan “and has made a claim for benefits thereunder which has not been paid in full,” according to the complaint. Others are alleged to have been negligent in selling what they should have known was a phony product, the suit also says.
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Prime Travel Protection investigation at crossroads after Vacation Superstore/Best Price Cruises filing

Florida’s campaign to stop unlicensed travel insurance appears to be at a crossroads. State regulators yesterday sent a two-count notice to Vacation Superstore Network/Best Price Cruises, with the by-now familiar charges: selling travel insurance without a required license, employing agents who didn’t have the necessary paperwork, and, of course, identifying customers who were affected by the alleged purchase of unlicensed insurance.

Here’s the document (PDF).
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Lawsuit update: Legal bloggers rally to support free speech online

I wanted to take a moment to say “thank you” for the support I’ve gotten from lawyers in the blogosphere after being hit with a frivolous defamation lawsuit from a Florida travel agency earlier this year.

We’ve filed a motion to dismiss the suit and there’s no question that the case will be thrown out of court with prejudice.

In the meantime, it has become clear to the experts that this case was filed with the sole purpose of silencing this blog — what’s called a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), or a suit intended to censor, intimidate and silence someone by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism.
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Palm Coast Travel fined $2,500 and placed on probation for selling unauthorized travel insurance

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.
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Internal report shows Palm Coast Travel had $27,787 in outstanding travel insurance claims

A fresh round of public records released by the state of Florida’s Department of Financial Service this morning reveals the number of consumer complaints against travel agencies alleged to have sold illegal travel insurance, as well as the claims paid and their estimated value.

Palm Coast Travel had just three claims worth $27,787 — far below those of other large travel agencies such as Vacation Superstore (33 claims worth $131,061) and Legendary Journeys (174 claims worth $503,957). That figure suggests Palm Coast Travel, which also does business as Smartcruiser.com, aggressively moved to settle claims related to its alleged sale of illegal Prime Travel Protection products even before Florida regulators stepped in.
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Florida accuses three more travel agencies — wait, make that five more agencies — of selling unlicensed insurance

Looks like Palm Coast Travel has company. Florida regulators have filed charges against three more travel agencies as part of their expanding probe of unlicensed insurance offered through defunct Prime Travel Protection. (Two more agencies were added to the list at the end of today; see update at the end of this post.)

Ahoy Cruises of Jacksonville, Fla., JB Travel of Boynton Beach, Fla., and St. Lucie West Travel of Port St. Lucie, Fla., are accused by the state’s Department of Financial Services of violating several insurance-related statues — or, put differently, of selling fake travel insurance.

This is an important story, because bogus “trip protection” policies are known to have been sold to people across the country for years, potentially costing travelers millions of dollars in lost vacations.
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