Tag Archives: Claims Sinkhole Claims

Florida Homeowners Insurance Sinkhole Claims Analysis: Sinkholes and MSJs on the Stabilization Repairs (Pre-408 Policies)

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*April 30, 2014: as a result in the decline in sinkhole claims, there have not been many developments on the contract for repair requirement since I first won this issue over a year ago.  

Insurance Policy

Insurance Policy

In a sinkhole case, can an insurer win a summary judgment that the insured is not entitled to coverage for subsurface repairs, even though that insured has entered into a contract for stabilization repairs in accordance with recommendations of the engineer the insured retained? Yes, even if the policy did not incorporate the statutory amendments from Senate Bill 408.

I previously obtained a summary judgment (and at least one other Judge in Hillsborough county has adopted the same position) in a Hillsborough county case where the Court ruled that:

if the insured wanted coverage for the cost of stabilization repairs, the policy and applicable statutes required the insured to enter into a contract for stabilization repairs that was in accordance with the recommendations of the engineer selected or approved by the engineer retained by the insurer.

The Court determined that, although the insured had entered into a contract for repair in accordance with her engineer’s recommendations, she still was not entitled to any coverage for stabilization repairs.

The Court cited five reasons:

1. Fla. Stat. 627.707 (5) (a) (2005) requires the coverage to be the cost of repairs recommended by the insurer’s engineer:

“if a sinkhole loss is verified, the insurer shall pay to stabilize the land and building and repair the foundation in accordance with the recommendations of the professional engineer as provided under s. 627.7073, and in consultation with the policyholder, subject to the coverage and terms of the policy.”

The engineer provided under Fla. Stat. 627.7073 is (usually) the engineer retained by the insurer; therefore, Fla. Stat. 627.707 (5) (a) requires the insurer to provide coverage in accordance with its engineer’s specifications.

2. Fla. Stat 627.7073 (1) (c) (2006) provides a presumption of correctness for purposes of relying on the insurer’s retained engineer’s recommendations:

“The respective findings, opinions, and recommendations of the professional engineer or professional geologist as to the cause of distress to the property and the findings, opinions, and recommendations of the professional engineer as to land and building stabilization and foundation repair shall be presumed correct.”

The Court understood that this was not a presumption in evidence terms; however, it was a presumption that made sense in combination with Fla. Stat. 627.707 (5) (2005) and the policy form.

3. The first half of Fla. Stat. 627.707 (5) (b) (2005) limits coverage for stabilization repairs until the insured enters into the contract for stabilization repairs covered by the insurer:

“The insurer may limit its payment to the actual cash value of the sinkhole loss, not including underpinning or grouting or any other repair technique performed below the existing foundation of the building, until the policyholder enters into a contract for the performance of building stabilization or foundation repairs. After the policyholder enters into the contract, the insurer shall pay the amounts necessary to begin and perform such repairs as the work is performed and the expenses are incurred. … “

4. The second half of Fla. Stat. 627.707 (5) (b) (2005) provides insureds with recourse in the event the stabilization repairs recommended by the insurer’s engineer are not sufficient:

“If repair covered by a personal lines residential property insurance policy has begun and the professional engineer selected or approved by the insurer determines that the repair cannot be completed within the policy limits, the insurer must either complete the professional engineer’s recommended repair or tender the policy limits to the policyholder without a reduction for the repair expenses incurred.”

5. The policy properly incorporated these provisions.

Other Notes

The Court had actually ruled against this same argument weeks before this hearing; however, when presented with a complete understanding of the statutory framework, the Court agreed that the statutes and policy require an insured to enter into a contract in accordance with the insurer’s retained engineer’s stabilization repair plan if he or she wants that coverage.

We also argue that the following two cases suggest that an insurer should be entitled to summary judgment on the cosmetic repairs when an insured has not entered into a compliant contract for stabilization repairs:

Ceballo v. Citizens, 967 So. 2d 811 (Fla. 2007) and

Slayton v. Universal Property and Casualty Ins. Co., 103 So. 3d 934 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013).

We read these cases as supporting the proposition that, without the subsurface repairs, any dispute on the estimated cosmetic damages is simply premature. The insured should be giving the insurer the opportunity to coordinate performance of the stabilization repairs, then inspect the property after those repairs are complete, and then issue any supplemental payment for additional damages that might be necessary. Although the provisions at issue in Slayton and Ceballo are not identical to the sinkhole loss provisions, the sinkhole loss settlement provisions also indicate that additional damages may occur after the repairs and there may be more coverage available.

I’d be happy to provide you with copies of the orders or anything else you might need in regards to these issues.

Sinkhole Formation

Sinkhole Formation

 

Takeaway:

Do you want forms and checklists to streamline the process of obtaining these results?  If so, message me today.

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The “Residence Premises” Defense in Florida Homeowners Insurance Litigation

Overview:

Do you want to know about a defense that Todd Legal, P.A. has helped create – the residence premises defense?  Do you want to know what steps you need to take to evaluate whether a homeowner must reside at the property to have coverage for a homeowners insurance claim?  Read this article, and make sure to read to the end to take advantage of our free Litigation Report offer.

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Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

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*April 30, 2014 Update: this has been one of the most popular posts on the blog and for good reason.  I have heard about many carriers having success with this defense, and a case I handled resulted in a complete defense result in the Second DCA.  

Make sure to read all the way to the end of this post to learn how I propose making sure carriers efficiently guarantee they do not fail to use this defense in any case they have.*

For HO-3 policies, insureds must reside at their property to have coverage for damage to their home; however, I am surprised to find out that not everyone knows about this coverage defense. The defense stems from the typical HO-3 policy’s definition of “residence premises,” and the clause in the building coverages portion of the policy that explains what the insurer covers.

For a property to be a “residence premises,” it must be the property where the insured resides and the property shown in the declarations pages. See Harrington v. Citizens Property Ins. Corp., 54 So. 3d 999 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). Although the Fourth DCA in Harrington focused on the impact of the definition of an “insured location,” the Court undoubtedly held that the definition of “residence premises” requires the insured to reside at the property. Since 1983, Georgia courts have held that the defense bars coverage for property damage. See Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Kephart, 439 S.E. 2d 682. New York’s courts have also enforced the defense. See Marshall v. Tower Ins. C. of New York, 44 A.D. 3d 1014 (2007). Further, the Michigan Supreme Court has upheld the use of the defense. Heniser v. Frankenmuth Mut. Ins. Co., 534 S.W. 2d 502 (Mich. 1995).

Although I have not seen any Florida appellate courts rule on the exact issue of the “residence premises” definition precluding coverage for property damage to a rental or unoccupied property, the Harrington case suggests the Florida DCAs would enforce the defense. In fact, every trial court I am aware of has ruled in favor of the insurer when presented with the issue. In addition, it is important to note that insurers have strong arguments that, because the property description is an essential part of the policy’s coverage grants, this is not a defense that an insurer can waive.

Reacting to the Florida appellate authority unfavorable to insurers on the vacancy exclusion, many insurers backed off from evaluating whether insureds needed to reside at a property for there to be coverage. With the trial court momentum in the insurers’ favor, the defense is certainly worth considering and evaluating as early as possible.

*April 30, 2014 Update: Want to Guarantee You Never Miss this Defense Again? Hire Todd Legal, P.A.*

How can you make sure that every adjuster and every attorney past, present, and future check to see if the insured resided at the property? Will an email work?  No. New adjusters and attorneys will never get it. Will a note to the file work?  Come on, give me a break.

But guess what will work?  If you shift your communication and case strategies from out of emails and Word documents and into a web-based project management portal.  Then, you can make sure every adjuster and every attorney on every case is asked whether the plaintiff resided at the property, and you have to go no further than two clicks online to find the answer for your specific case.  I offer innovative services and software that can automatically implement the strategy changes to be consistent with the information in this article.  If you want to know more about how I can help your company or firm ensure that your strategies are up-to-date and complied with by all of your colleagues and vendors, then contact me.  Furthermore, if you want a litigation project manager with a powerful software tool that allows your attorneys to draft top-down approved legal documents in every case with the click of a button, then read more about my services here.

The more you automate these routine tasks, the more time you will have to proactively manage your claims and cases.

Takeaway:

If you want legal forms, templates, guides, and checklists to ensure you “check the box” on properly handling a resident premises claim (and save money along the way), please message me.

If this article did not answer your Florida homeowners insurance claims question, contact us now.