Category Archives: Florida Homeowners Insurance Policies

Second DCA Finds Florida Peninsula Does Not Have to Provide Sinkhole Coverage under Policy Without Sinkhole Coverage

Florida Peninsula Home Insurance

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In a sinkhole case where I handled the underlying litigation for Florida Peninsula, the Second DCA determined Florida Peninsula was not required to provide sinkhole coverage to an insured who did not have sinkhole coverage.

I know how funny that headline may sound to you; however, the Plaintiff’s attorney argued that the policy was ambiguous for the following reasons:

  • the policy’s “Checklist of Coverage” had a “Y” next to the word “Sinkhole;”
  • the insurance agent testified she selected sinkhole coverage;
  • Florida Peninsula allegedly did not comply with certain notice requirements for excluding sinkhole loss; and
  • part of the policy discussed the Neutral Evaluation process.

If you want to know more about each of these arguments, please review the order embedded at the end of this post.

The Plaintiff’s law firm, Thompson Trial Group, did such a good job at the trial stage that they convinced the trial court that, as a matter of law, the Plaintiff had sinkhole coverage. At the trial court level, I explained to the trial court that all of Plaintiff’s argument fail as a matter of law. The Second DCA’s rationale set forth in the opinion reflects exactly what our arguments were at the trial stage. In short, statutes and case law clearly negated the Plaintiff’s arguments for coverage, and the exclusions were clear … to say the least. Nevertheless, the trial court reasoned that the Neutral Evaluation provision created an ambiguity.

Some other “fact” arguments in Florida Peninsula’s favor included:

  • Plaintiff did not pay the premium for “sinkhole loss;” and
  • Plaintiff did not even remember if she tried to obtain sinkhole coverage.

Not only did I set forth all of the legal principles outlining why Plaintiff’s counterarguments failed as a matter of law; I actually obtained raw computer data showing that the Plaintiff’s agent did not select sinkhole coverage. To try to save the costs of having to prove this matter at the appellate level, we wanted to cover all of our bases in the unlikely event that a fact issue remained.

Unlike the trial court, the Second DCA acknowledged my arguments (through other appellate counsel) that all of the Plaintiff’s legal arguments were not sufficient under Florida law. Although the trial court granted summary judgment for the Plaintiff, the Second DCA (1) reversed the trial court’s summary judgment for Plaintiff AND (2) remanded it to the trial court to enter judgment for Florida Peninsula.

After waiting years for this decision, I am very pleased and happy that Florida Peninsula trusted us to take the risks of pursuing this matter all the way through its conclusion.

* Of course, the ruling is not final until time for a rehearing has passed, and Plaintiff is free to appeal this matter to the Florida Supreme Court.

Here is the complete order:

Download (PDF, 97KB)


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 photo courtesy of http://www.uasblog.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/fist-pump-baby.jpeg

Progressive Purchases ASI, United Purchases Family Security, and Centauri Enters the Florida Market

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

We have big news coming from the Tampa Bay area today. There were three major announcements regarding companies based in this area:

As you know, there has been some major activity in the Florida homeowners insurance market this last quarter.

For those of you who missed it, here are our articles on the last four major Citizens takeouts:


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What Hurricane Wilma Insurance Claims Taught Us for the 2014 Florida Hurricane Season

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are looking for Hurricane Irma Florida insurance claims resources, click here.


Any questions? 

Please contact us.


Overview:

Although it has been eight full hurricane seasons since Hurricane Wilma, we can still learn lessons about how the next Florida hurricane could impact Florida’s homeowners insurance industry.

Hurricane Wilma was one of the most powerful storms ever.  Within 24 hours of becoming a hurricane, Wilma intensified to winds of 185 mph. By the time it reached Florida, its wind speed dropped to 120 mph; however, that drop in windspeed did not correlate to a drop in damages.

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By the time Hurricane Wilma passed, Florida suffered approximately $20.6 billion dollars in damages. Hurricane Wilma left 98% of South Florida without power.  These approximately 6,000,000 people would go on for 8-15 days without any power. Ultimately, this 2005 storm was the fifth costliest storm in United States history.

Florida’s homeowners insurers responded to record claim numbers.  In response to the more than 1 million property insurance claims, Florida homeowners insurers paid out more than $9.2 billion dollars.

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Hurricane Wilma made landfall one year after the famous 2004 hurricane season, when three powerful storms ravaged Florida.  Unlike the 2004 hurricane claims, though, Hurricane Wilma claims would continue punish Florida’s homeowners insurers for years to come.

The Biggest Surprise

From the insurance claims perspective, Hurricane Wilma’s biggest surprise was that it kept generating claims for several years. Unlike any prior hurricane, Hurricane Wilma produced tens of thousands of supplemental, reopened, and late hurricane damage claims.

In these claims, which lasted through 2010, homeowners or public adjusters would notify homeowners insurers that there was damage or that more damage had occurred.  In other words, despite Hurricane Wilma making landfall almost nine years ago, homeowners insurers have only gone a few years without handling hurricane insurance claims. Some insurers claimed that homeowners requested the reopening of 25% of the claims they previously believed were resolved.

As a statistical example, in the year of 2010, Citizens received approximately 600 Hurricane Wilma lawsuits and another 645 Hurricane Wilma claims.  In the homeowners insurance industry, this lag time is what Hurricane Wilma will be remembered for.

Late Notice of Hurricane Claims

In the process of dealing with these very complex insurance coverage issues, Florida courts issued libraries of rulings that carved out new homeowners insurance law.  As you know, First Party Property Insurance Law Blog previously discussed several Hurricane Wilma cases from 2012 and 2013.  In those cases, courts were faced with determining whether a homeowner, in 2008 or 2009, could report a homeowners insurance claim for Hurricane Wilma.

As you also know, the courts never provided a hard line on how late is too late for insurance coverage.  Although there was a statute of limitations, the vast majority of the cases involved claims that did not violate the statute of limitations. Instead, they were cases where the homeowners insurers were concerned that they could not tell whether the reported damage was from Hurricane Wilma, another storm, or wear and tear.  Instead of saying something to the effect of “notice is late when it is received three years after the hurricane,” Florida courts addressed each case’s expert testimony and other evidence. Ultimately, this issue led to the legislative changes discussed below.

Preparing for the Next Florida Hurricane

For those of you getting ready to handle claims this 2014 hurricane season, you need to know how the law has changed.  The most important statutory amendment is:

  • homeowners now have only three years from the date of the Hurricane’s landfall or damage to report the claim to their homeowners insurers.  Fla. Stat. § 627.70132.

So instead of eight or nine years of claims and litigation, Florida homeowners and homeowners insurers can expect the next major hurricane to generate perhaps four or five years.  If the next Florida hurricane makes landfall in a populated area like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, or Tampa Bay, then homeowners insurers can expect at least 1 million claims, as we saw with Hurricane Wilma.

Armed with the case law and statistics from Hurricane Wilma, adjusters and attorneys should be ready to apply what they learned for the next hurricane. Homeowners insurers will undoubtedly take more precautions during the initial inspections to try to limit the need for supplemental and reopened claims.  Public adjusters and homeowners’ attorneys will expedite their reinspections to ensure their clients don’t miss out on additional available coverage by failing to report it within three years. Lastly, everyone now knows it will take several years, not months, to put the next hurricane behind us.

Takeaway:

Unless insurers have new systems in place, the next hurricane will be just as tough on insurers as the last one.  My fear is that insurers still handle claims just like they did in 2005 – manually.  For those insurers that understand that technology has changed in the past nine years, we legal technology innovators are here to help with automated legal documents, data analytics to predict settlement, and structured project management software to reduce costs.  For those insurers still doing things the old fashioned way, call us when you need power and control over escalating legal fees and poor outcomes.

If you want more information on legal checklists and guides to prepare for hurricane season, please message me.


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Florida Appellate Court on Rodrigo v. State Farm and Insurance Policy Conditions Precedent After Curran

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

A Florida appellate court recently made some important decisions for anyone interested in Florida homeowners insurance.  Do you need to know about the legal impact of issues with Examinations Under Oath, Proofs of Loss, and the Other Policy Conditions.  Then you must read this article.


The Fourth District Court Appeals recently issued the first decision on conditions precedent in insurance policies since the Curran case.

Download (PDF, 132KB)

Things are too busy at Todd Legal, P.A. to do the usual “deep dive” into the ruling and the impact, but I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the decision.  As you know, we at Todd Legal provide software and other innovative services to Florida’s property insurers and their attorneys to deliver legal services that are smarter, cheaper, and quicker than what insurers have come to expect.  We are nearing the delivery stage, so I am not going to be able to timely analyze this Rodrigo decision in enough detail to assess its overall impact.

In summary, the Fourth DCA held that the proof of loss provision is still a condition precedent after Curran.  I encourage you to read the full opinion and focus on how the requirement was laid out in this policy, including the loss settlement provision.  Once again, we will await the next decision to see how courts may eventually interpret the EUO provision after Curran, but this decision certainly helps insurers and their attorneys when they try to explain to the judges that Curran may only apply to auto accident/UM cases.  I apologize for the brief analysis and will try to supplement this article in the near future.

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Florida Supreme Court Decides Curran Regarding Compulsory Medical Examination in Uninsured and Underinsured Case is a Condition Subsequent

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida’s Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that could change the way insurance claims and evaluated.  Do you know what the Court said?


In March, Florida’s Supreme Court decided whether an insurer of uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage has to prove prejudice when the insured fails to attend a compulsory medical examination (“CME”).  As you know, we first addressed this issue almost a year ago in this article.

Here is the Court’s complete decision in Curran v. State Farm:

Download (PDF, 135KB)

The Curran decision contains a lengthy analysis of the relevant Florida case law; however, in summary, the Court determined that a CME provision in the UM insurance policy context is a condition subsequent to coverage for UM benefits; therefore, State Farm was required to plead and prove that the insured’s failure to attend the CME prejudiced State Farm.

photo from http://www.peterbottcher.ca/sc/deco/contract_300x220.jpeg

Ultimately, the Curran decision hinged on what type of policy provision the CME provision is: a condition subsequent or a condition precedent. State Farm argued that the CME was a condition precedent to coverage. If State Farm prevailed, then it would have had a presumption throughout the litigation that the insured’s failure to attend the CME prejudiced State Farm (like breach of the prompt notice provision). By contrast, the insured sought to have the CME be characterized as a condition subsequent because, if so, State Farm would have to plead and prove that the insured’s failure to attend the CME prejudiced State Farm.repair 1

The Court agreed with the insured; therefore, the Court required State Farm to prove it was prejudiced.  The Court started the analysis by describing the public policy behind the UM statute, Fla. Stat. 627.727(1). The Court explained its decision must include the public policy behind this statute. Next, the Court simply stated that the CME occurs after the parties enter into a contract and after a claim occurs; therefore, the Court opined that the CME provision was a condition subsequent to coverage. The Court reasoned that the CME provision was a part of the cooperation clause. Under Florida law, insurers have the burden of proving prejudice for breach of the cooperation clause provisions.

Importantly, the Court did not remand the case for further fact finding; instead, it determined that State Farm failed to prove prejudice as a matter of law.  Thus, not only did State Farm fail to obtain the presumption, they lost the issue altogether.

What does Curran mean for Examinations Under Oath in homeowners insurance cases? Advocates for insurers would argue nothing, and insureds’ attorneys would argue everything. The Court was careful to explain that this decision was strongly influenced by the UM statute and public policy, and the Court did not mention whether the cases it cited on the EUO provision were incorrectly decided.  Thus, insurers’ and insureds’ attorneys have room to argue their points on whether Curran should be extended to property insurance EUO failures; however, neither has direct support from the Florida Supreme Court. This decision is similar to the Court’s decision in GEICO v. Nunez, where the Court heavily relied on the specific statute at issue, and not just the insurance policy.


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Florida’s Second DCA Enforces Residence Premises Defense in Homeowners Insurance Claim

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

We are all about getting results.  Read this article to find out about our one-of-a-kind successes with the “residence premises” defense.

Make sure to read all the way to the end to receive our free offer for a Litigation Report.


In a case where I was the attorney at the trial court level, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals determined the insureds did not have homeowners insurance coverage for a sinkhole claim under an HO-3 policy because they did not reside at the property.

photo from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/2011/03/28/real_estate/us_housing_vacancy_rates/vacant_house.gi.top.jpg

If you are not familiar with the HO-3’s coverage requirement that the homeowners reside at the property, please review my analysis of the “residence premises” defense in this post.

Here is the Second DCA’s per curiam affirmed order:

Download (PDF, 273KB)

Although the decision is a PCA rather than a written order, I am excited to learn that this lengthy battle is (probably) over and that my client was able to enforce its policy’s requirements.  Insurers, insureds and their attorneys have been ignoring this “residence premises” issue for years.  Many thought that insurers lost the right to enforce the occupancy requirement when Florida courts construed the vacancy exclusion in the insureds’ favor.  By refocusing the attention to the definition of “residence premises,” the courts understood and appreciated that my client only agreed to insure this home if and when the insureds occupied it.

If you have any questions and want further information or documents, please contact us.

Takeaway:

I can bet you at least half of your attorneys have never heard of this defense, and another 25% aren’t checking for it because you aren’t asking them for it.

If you want guides, checklists, and templates for winning this “residence premises” defense, please message me.


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Ten Reforms to Fix Florida’s Homeowners Insurance Market

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook


Average Home Insurance Cost

photo from http://www.insuranceproviders.com/

The James Madison Institute and the R Street Institute issued a detailed report outlining ten ways to help Florida’s property insurance market without raising rates.  The full report is here:

Download (PDF, 1.08MB)

In this comprehensive report, the institutes suggest ten critical changes to allow insurers to succeed in Florida.  PropertyCasualty360’s article provides the following breakdown:

1.     Implement the Hager incremental Cat Fund reduction plan

2.     Establish requirements for “assignment of benefits” provisions

3.     Implement incremental Citizens eligibility reform with a “circuit breaker”

4.     Allow excess and surplus lines carriers to do voluntary take-outs from Citizens

5.     Remove non-primary residences from Citizens and continue reduction of Citizens’ maximum coverage

6.     Expand 2013’s coastal preservation concept to bar other state programs from providing coastal subsidizes

7.     Implement tough, new Citizens and Cat Fund conflict-of-interest policies and make protecting taxpayers a focus of both entities

8.     Create an expert panel to advise the state on the use of RESTORE Act funds

9.     Establish fair settlement procedures

10.   Require an annual report on the combined post-storm bonding capacity of Citizens, the Cat Fund and the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association

You will need quite a bit of time to review the report.  I found two of the recommendations intriguing and worth mentioning:

First, once again you see a group identifying the assignment of benefits claims as a main concern for property insurers.  As you might recall, the Policyholders Bill of Rights Working Group also made several recommendations for addressing the concerns posed by the assignment of benefits/ water damage claims and the associated litigation.  Similarly, the institutes recommend requiring assignment of benefits contractors to comply with the insurance policy conditions that homeowners have to comply with, rather than being shielded by the general rule that policy conditions do not flow to the contractors.  In addition, the institutes suggest allowing homeowners a brief window to opt out of the assignment of benefits agreements to protect the homeowners’ interests.  Overall, it seems that everyone is seriously trying to resolve the substantial burdens imposed by these claims.  I am sure insurers anxiously await to see how and when these efforts will materialize into solutions.

The institutes also recommend Citizens continue to limit its overall exposure, and they single out vacation homes as a coverage risk Citizens should avoid.  There are arguments on both sides here because Floridians obviously welcome the economic benefits of temporary residents; however, if Floridians have the burden associated with a catastrophe, the legislature should pay close attention to the overall economic impact of assuming these risks.  Ultimately, this issue is up for debate and I would love to hear feedback on the benefits of Citizens ensuring these secondary residences.  This recommendation was part of the larger conclusion that we have all heard: Citizens should continue to reduce its inventory.  We all know Citizens is vehemently trying to achieve that result.

The institutes’ report is a highly detailed perspective on the Florida property insurance industry and one certainly worth reading.  It is good to know that, despite the absence of any catastrophes, Floridians are still working on hard on trying to improve this market and prepare it for the worst.


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The Death of the Concurrent Cause Doctrine in Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims under Sebo v. American Home Assurance

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In a monumental September 18, 2013 holding, Florida’s Second DCA in Sebo v. American Home Assurance ruled that there should have never been a concurrent cause doctrine in Florida, and that the other DCAs have been mistaken for years.  Here is the full opinion:

Download (PDF, 58KB)

As background, many cases involve damage being caused by a combination of excluded and covered perils.  For years, when this occurred, courts would look at the facts and the policy to determine if the combination was dependent or independent of each other and whether the policy terms disposed of the concurrent cause doctrine.  If courts determined that the causes were independent and the policy did not “write out” the concurrent cause doctrine, then it wouldn’t matter if the excluded peril caused 99% of the damage, the damage was still covered so long as the covered peril caused at least 1%.  If the causes were dependent or if the policy had an anti-concurrent cause clause, then the question would be which peril was the efficient proximate cause of the damage – the excluded peril or the covered peril.  (I think I got that right … ).

This gave lawyers and drafters a lot to think about, but the Second DCA says that those exercises were a waste of time.  In any cases involving an excluded and covered peril causing damage together, the efficient proximate cause doctrine should apply.  This not only marks a major swing in the law; it is also at least a major swing in this case. The jury awarded Sebo roughly $7.7M.

Here is the verdict form from the trial court:

Download (PDF, 109KB)

Here is a photograph of this unbelievably amazing house:

 photo from http://www.naplesnews.com/photos/2007/jul/01/38552/

There’s something to think about this weekend.  I am going to think about what this means for sinkhole claims.  Feel free to email me your thoughts.  I hope you have a good weekend.

Takeaway:

This is such an important issue; however, I don’t think most insurers have implemented processes and procedures to take advantage of their rights under this holding.

The Sebo case calls for a whole new set of checklists and guides for handling cases in the Second DCA, and maybe even in Florida.  If you want to know more, please message me.


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Florida Homeowners Insurance Questions, the Loss Settlement Provision, and When is Alleged Underpayment Not a Breach of the Policy?

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Overview

The Loss Settlement provision is, without a doubt, the most overlooked homeowners insurance policy provision.  There are tens of thousands of lawsuits filed every year where the parties dispute what the homeowners insurer owes to the homeowner.

Do you want to know what neither side probably looked at?  The Loss Settlement provision – the provision that actually describes the homeowners insurer’s obligation to pay a claim.  Read this article to learn more about how this provision could decide your case.

Make sure to read until the end because we offer you a free Litigation Report analyzing the ways to improve your case outcomes while paying the least amount possible.


Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook and Litigation Data Reports:

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

If you are in the Florida homeowners insurance claims industry and are looking for a guide with the key cases, strategies, laws, attorneys, and adjusters, or if you’re looking for Florida litigation data reports, please visit this page to learn more about our Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook.

Questions?

Have any questions about Florida’s homeowners insurers, policies, and claims, please feel free to contact us.


One of the most important questions in property insurance litigation is whether an insurer can obtain a summary judgment in a damages dispute. Stated otherwise, can an insurer prevail on a summary judgment motion when the insured alleges the insurer underpaid the claim? You might ask, “how is that possible?” How can an insurer and the Judge agree that even if the insurer allegedly underpaid the insured, the insurer did not breach the contract? If you can answer these questions, then you understand the difference between underpayment and breach.

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To understand the answers to these questions, you must examine the Florida cases discussing loss settlement provisions. Following are some examples:

 

1. Slayton v. Universal

Download (PDF, 13KB)

Slayton holds that even if an insured allegedly underpaid pursuant to the policy, the insurer could have simultaneously complied with its policy obligations as a matter of law. While Slayton is limited to the facts and statutes at issue in the case, its rationale may be applied to any insurance dispute.

Rather than promote litigation, judges should do what Slayton did and allow the insurer to rely on the insured to present a genuine policy dispute before bringing a lawsuit. In Slayton, the Court held that the insured should have used the benefits the insurer paid to the insurer to repair the home and then submit a supplemental claim to the insurer if the original payment was insufficient. Instead, the insured sued the insurer without attempting to conduct the repairs with the payments provided by the insurer. Ultimately, in Slayton, the Fifth DCA upheld the trial court’s finding that the insurer, by providing the payment to the insured, complied with the policy as a matter of law.

By enforcing the loss settlement provision’s requirements, the Fifth DCA in Slayton held that the insurer did not breach the contract, even if it arguably underpaid the claim.

 

2. Ceballo v. Citizens

Download (PDF, 46KB)

In Ceballo, the insureds alleged that they proved a total loss of Ordinance and Law coverage pursuant to the Valued Policy Law statute and argued the insurer should have paid the coverage. The insureds further claimed that the insurer’s failure to pay the coverage constituted a breach of the contract. The insurer responded that before the insureds could be entitled to this coverage, the policy required the insureds to incur Ordinance and Law damages. To put this into context, the policy and statute at issue in Ceballo provides that the insureds were not entitled to replacement cost coverage until they incurred the damages. Like the Fifth DCA in Slayton, Florida’s Supreme Court in Ceballo determined that the insurer did not breach the contract despite the insureds’ allegations that the insurer underpaid. Thus, the insureds could not present a damages dispute to the jury, and the insurer was therefore entitled to judgment in its favor on that issue.

 

3. Buckley Towers v. Citizens

Download (PDF, 96KB)

Likewise, the Eleventh Circuit in Buckley Towers considered the lower court’s finding that the insured was excused from incurring damages under the policy. Similar to the policy at issue in Ceballo, the policy at issue in Buckley Towers provided that if in insured wants replacement cost coverage, it must incur the damages. If the insured does not incur the damages, the insured can only obtain actual cash value. Despite this policy requirement, the lower court held that the insurer’s alleged underpayment excused the insured’s performance in that regard.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, determining that the insured could not use the prevention of performance doctrine to avoid a requirement that the damages be incurred. Unlike the lower court, the Eleventh Circuit refused to “rewrite the policy.” The Eleventh Circuit held that the insured was required to make the repairs before he or she would be entitled to the replacement cost coverage. In other words, until the repairs were complete, the insurer was correct in issuing only the coverage for actual cash value. The court found that by using the prevention of performance doctrine, the lower court impermissibly rewrote the policy that was freely negotiated between the parties. Even when facing allegations of underpayment, the Eleventh Circuit determined the insurer did not breach as a matter of law. In short, Buckley Towers, like Ceballo and Slayton, shows that courts must adhere to the loss settlement provisions in a policy.

So what do these cases tell you?

First and foremost, beware when relying heavily on the black letter law in these cases because the statutes and policy forms have changed. Instead of focusing on the holdings of these cases, focus on the courts’ interpretations of the loss settlement provisions. In each case, the court determined that the insureds were not entitled to a trial on damages until they demonstrated compliance with the loss settlement provisions. Second, you must scrutinize your loss settlement provisions, whether you are dealing with a sinkhole claim, water claim, or tile claim, before accepting the opposing party’s allegations as fact. Ultimately, the loss settlement provision may make alleged underpayment a question for the judge and not the jury.

 Takeaway:

You shouldn’t allow your attorneys to overlook this provision, and you should have systems in place to make sure it isn’t overlooked.  Your provision is the same in every case, but it needs to be read in light of the case law.

Don’t trust this type of issue to junior associates.  Get your best management and best attorneys together, create a system for ensuring compliance, and never think about it again.

If you want checklists, guides, and legal document templates on the Loss Settlement provision, please message me.


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Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims for Water Leaks and Damage, and the Constant or Repeated Seepage Exclusion

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

What happens when a homeowners insurance company denies a claim for constant or repeated seepage or leakage?

Generally, homeowners insurers’ personnel will look at the damage and, based on (1) experience or (2) an expert opinion, the insurer will determine that it is long term damage that is not covered.

If a person has a roof leak, pipe break, supply line burst, or something else that she thought happened quickly, then she might think the constant or repeated seepage exclusion is unfair.  Depending on (1) the way that the exclusion is written in the policy and (2) the investigation the homeowners insurer conducted, the homeowner might be right.

In this article, you will see what homeowners insurers need to prove that a water leak and its damage are excluded using the constant or repeated seepage exclusion for long term water damage.

So don’t forget to read all the way to the end, contact me, and subscribe.


Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook and Litigation Data Reports:

Before we go on, if you are in the Florida homeowners insurance claims industry and are looking for a guide with the key cases, strategies, laws, attorneys, and adjusters, or if you’re looking for Florida litigation data reports, please visit this page to learn more about our Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook.


Do you think you need to understand this subject? I’d say you should be an expert on it.  

The most common dispute in the Florida homeowners insurance industry is whether water damage is covered or excluded by homeowners insurance.  Florida is a rainy and humid place, so there is plenty of water damage.  The question is whether the damage is sudden or long-term.  You better know the difference.

How do you find out the difference? Read this article to find out how homeowners insurers must prove that damage was excluded by the constant or repeated seepage exclusion.

The Policy

The exclusion has many variations; however, in general, it excludes long term water damage. With respect to the variations, some of these exclusions expressly provide that the seepage must come from within a plumbing, heating, or air system. Others contain language that excludes the leakage “whether hidden or not.” In addition, some describe the exclude time period as “weeks” or “months” whereas others specifically exclude damage that occurs over a period of more than 14 days.

Hoey v. State Farm

The main case on the issue is the Fourth DCA’s 2008 decision in Hoey v. State Farm, 988 So. 2d 99 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). In Hoey, the Fourth DCA determined that the evidence in the record was enough to show that the insurer was entitled to a judgment that the damage was long term and, therefore, excluded from insurance coverage. By analyzing the steady increase in the water bills for roughly three months, the insurer was able to show that there was a failure in the nylon of the toilet supply line. Contrary to many of the litigated cases on this provision, this case had enough evidence in the insurer’s favor to allow the trial court to determine the insurance company clearly did not cover the damage.

Key Evidence

In cases where summary judgment is not appropriate, juries must decide whether the evidence shows that the leakage occurred for an excluded time period. Naturally, insureds’ and insurers’ attorneys should pay attention to the following factors to assess what the jury will think of the damage:

1. The Photographs

The photographs tell the story and are typically the most important evidence. Do they show staining and warping? For an insurer, it is going to be hard to convince a jury that the water loss was long term if there is no staining or warping of particle board cabinets. For an insured, if the particle board has rings and rings of deep brown stains and appears to be falling apart, then how can he or she convince a jury that the damage happened from a single leak?

The most important photographs will come from the field adjuster and, if the insurer promptly hired an engineer who quickly visited the property, then the engineer should have good photographs. Because these losses often occur in obscure areas of the property (kitchen cabinets, wall space), an insured generally does not have prior photographs of the damaged areas. Ultimately, the photographs will be the most critical evidence in the case.

2. The Water Bills

The water bills also can help guide the parties’ understanding of what happened. If there was a sudden and extreme toilet leak or pipe burst, then, depending on where the burst was, there may be a huge surge in the water bills. If the bills constantly crept up for a few months, however, that might suggest there was a pinhole leak that allowed water to seep out over a long period of time. According to the Fourth DCA, the water bills in Hoey were sufficient to allow the trial court’s finding that the damage was excluded.

3. The Experts

The experts in this field are very skilled and can provide the parties with highly detailed evaluations of an infinite amount of different types of water losses. Many of the experts I deal with rely on the studies done by Dr. Ralph Moon from HSA Engineers.I have worked with Dr. Moon a great deal. He has published volumes of studies showing what each housing material looks like after it has been exposed to water for days or months. The studies are very intricate and detailed, and, in some cases, can even tell you what temperature the water was in your case. There are several other outstanding experts that rely on Mr. Moon’s studies. I find that a lot of these experts are very good at explaining why a particular type of damage had to have been caused by long term seepage.

Despite having handled well over 100 of these types of cases, I have not had the chance to meet any experts in this area that are hired by insureds and their attorneys. I would like to hear their counterarguments to the very well reasoned theories laid out in the water duration studies I mentioned above.

If you would like a copy of any of Dr. Moon’s articles or the names of any of the other highly qualified experts, please feel free to email me. If you handle these types of cases, I highly recommend reading Dr. Moon’s articles and sharing them with your team as soon as possible. As you know, the experts will be responsible for explaining the issue to the jury.

4. The Nature of the Source

To determine whether the damage was long term, the parties have to understand the nature of the event. Was the leak coming from the roof? If so (and so long as there was not a wind event), the only seepage that could have entered must have been rain and other moisture over a period of time. If a slight “leak” caused a substantial amount of damage, that is a strong example of a long term water loss. Was the leak coming from a deficiency in the shower stall or tub surround? One might logically expect that the damage occurred each time the person showered or took a bath. Understanding the exact source of each portion of the loss is crucial to determining whether the source, by its nature, is something that would happen over time or all at once.

5. The Policy

To evaluate the claim, insurers and insureds must also go to the heart of the issue – the insurance policy. Interestingly, and as mentioned above, these policies have many variations. Not only are the excluded durations different, but the sources of the loss can often be different. For example, some policies’ constant or repeated seepage exclusions may exclude long term seepage coming only from within a plumbing, heating, or air conditioning system. If the loss was long term but not from one of those systems (for example, through the roof), then insureds and insurers might need to reevaluate whether the loss was “sudden” or not, which is also required by virtually every homeowners insurance policy. As also noted above, some policies contain language that excludes the damage “whether hidden or not.” This is arguably the first place to look when evaluating one of these claims.

If you are an insured, a claims handler, or an attorney in this field, then you certainly need to understand the significance of these issues. This exclusion is as litigated as any other exclusion in any type of insurance policy. Although this was not meant to be an exhaustive review of the issues, I hope that it helped you in some way. As noted above, if you want any of the materials from Dr. Moon or you want to discuss any of the other experts in the field, please email me.

Takeaway:

At least 60% of your claims and lawsuits are probably water damage claims. It’s time to approach these on a more global level.

  • What if I told you that you could use a system to search your old claims and cases to determine how much the next case will settle for?
  • What if I told you that you could pay for the legal documents for these claims only once?

Well, its no longer 2001, and these systems are freely available.  If you want to know more about the systems we use, or you want free checklists and guides for handling water damage claims, please message me.


Questions?

If you have any questions about this article or anything else Florida homeowners insurance-related, please contact us.

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