Florida’s 5th DCA Enforces Homeowners Insurance Sinkhole Stabilization Contract for Repair Requirement
The Fifth DCA, in State Farm v. Fred & Carol Phillips, held that the homeowners had to enter into a contract to obtain coverage for sinkhole stabilization repairs determined by the appraisal process.
The full order is here:
This is a positive order for the insurance industry; however, it may not be broad enough to provide certainty in the trial courts on the main issues being litigated. Policyholders’ attorneys will argue that this order is limited to appraisal awards where no other breaches exist. They will say that this case does not apply when an insurer chooses its own engineer, refuses the repairs recommended by the insureds’ engineer, and does not resolve damages in the appraisal process. This is a much more common scenario than the situation in Phillips.
Insurers’ attorneys may argue this is the authority they have been looking for to support a multitude of arguments they have been urging the trial courts to enforce. To support any statutory sinkhole argument, insurers’ attorneys will urge the trial courts to conduct the same analysis the Fifth DCA did in Phillips on the legislative intent of the sinkhole statutes. Insurers’ attorneys may also argue that this order shows they could never breach the policy in a sinkhole insurance claim until the insureds entered into a contract for repairs and the insurers refused to pay in accordance with that contract.
From a practical standpoint, the important question is whether this order creates any legal issues that help the parties avoid trying sinkhole cases. In other words, does this order create any summary judgment potential that was not already present? Probably not.
Ultimately, this case is not broad enough to provide any specific guidance on these issues; however, insurers do have authority to ask the trial courts to genuinely assess the legislative intent of the sinkhole statutes. Moving forward, it is important to note insurers do have many important sinkhole issues currently pending with the Second DCA, so we should not have to wait too much longer to get answers on the most litigated questions in Sinkhole Alley.
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