Three title insurance companies have settled Florida class-action lawsuits alleging they overcharged consumers, and have set up settlement funds ranging from $824,536 to $2.5 million to pay class members’ claims,the plaintiffs’ law firm said today.

Lawyers Title Insurance Corp., American Pioneer Title Insurance Corp. (now known as Ticor Title Insurance Co. of Florida) and Fidelity National Title Insurance Corp. joined Florida’s largest title insurer, Attorneys & Title Insurance Fund, in settling the actions, Florida-based Wites & Kapetan said today.

According to legal documents filed in the action, the three companies denied the allegations and denied that they were liable for the claims asserted. None of the three companies involved returned calls asking for comment.

The lawsuits focus on title insurance premiums charged to borrowers in mortgage refinancing transactions. In such transactions, the borrower is required to pay a title insurance company a premium for a title insurance policy that the insurer then issues to the lender, according to Wites & Kapetan.

That policy is known as a Lender’s Policy, and insures the lender, not the borrower. The lawsuits alleged that title insurance companies overcharged borrowers for those premiums by failing to charge them a discounted premium as required by Florida law, known as the Reissue Rate, the law firm said.

In settling the lawsuits, the three insurers established settlement funds, ranging from $824,536 to $2.5 million, to pay the claims of class members, and will institute changes to their business practices, Wites & Kapetan said.

In Florida, when homeowners refinance their mortgages, they can receive a lower rate, called the Reissue Rate, if they can provide their prior title insurance policy, according to the legal papers. As a result of this class action, the three title insurance companies will instruct their agents to request prior owner’s policies from borrowers on refinance transactions and explain to the owners that they can get a discount, the settlement agreements said.

These changes mirror those agreed to in an earlier Attorneys & Title Insurance Fund settlement. According to the firm, Lawyers Title, Ticor and Fidelity agreed to implement the same changes agreed to in that suit, which involve agreeing that charging Reissue Rates is mandatory.

Title insurance industry practices have been in the spotlight nationwide this year, with investigations of major title insurance companies taking place in Colorado, California and other states. The probes have centered on alleged title insurance practices of paying kickbacks to real estate brokerages, lenders and others for referring large volumes of business to them.

The Florida class-action lawsuit does not involve accusations of kickbacks.

Consumers who qualify as class members, meaning that they are eligible for a payment, will receive notice of the settlement through direct mail and publication in newspapers throughout the state, Wites & Kapetan said.

A settlement Web site, http://www.floridatitleinsurancesettlement.com, is already online for The Fund and Lawyers Title settlements and will soon be expanded to include the Ticor and Fidelity settlements, Wites & Kapetan said.

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