Tag Archives: homeowners insurance

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claim for Long Term Water Leak Not Excluded as a Matter of Law

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

In Price v. Castle Key Indemnity Company, Florida’s Second DCA recently dealt a heavy hit to homeowners insurers’ arguments using the continuous/constant or repeated seepage defense.

Drop of water

 

Facts

The facts in Price were a prime example of a long term water damage insurance claim. The homeowners insurer gathered strong evidence, and was able to show that this leak continued for weeks and weeks without any stoppage. The insurer’s evidence was startling: over a period of more than 30 days, over 195,000 gallons of water escaped from a pipe going to the homeowner’s toilet.  Faced with this evidence, the trial court granted summary judgment for the insurer.

The Second DCA disagreed with the insurer and the trial court. The Second DCA’s reason: the terms “sudden” and “seepage” were “less than clear” when applied to these facts. Accordingly, the Second DCA determined that these words created a latent ambiguity.  The Second DCA instructed the trial court to allow a jury to determine coverage in this case, instead of a judge.

Disappointing Discussion

Although this is the most heavily litigated coverage issue in Florida homeowners insurance, the Second DCA did not take much time to explain its decision.

These long term water damage opinions don’t come often. Usually, claims do not have such egregiously long leaks, or they have some type of dispute on the duration … so they should be determined by a jury. When the rare case like this pops up, you would think the Second DCA would take the chance to explain what types of long term water damage should be covered as a matter of law under these policies; and what types shouldn’t be.

Unfortunately, the Second DCA did not take that opportunity. Moving forward, this leaves many unanswered questions, and a lot of room for interpretation for trial court judges. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were tens of thousands of pending claims with this issue. The parties and lawyers handling those cases don’t seem to have much to work with from that case, unless they are to assume every insurance policy is ambiguous.

Takeaway

In trial court hearings, this Price opinion will give homeowners’ attorneys stronger arguments, but only if the homeowners insurer tries to obtain summary judgment.  Most of these cases don’t go that route.

I would not be surprised to see other DCAs take a different approach than the Second DCA did in Price.  I doubt all courts will be willing to find that every insurance policy is ambiguous as to long term water losses. A case like this is the perfect example of a case where insurers could be granted summary judgment.

We will see how this changes the strategies. Hopefully, we will get some more opinions on this issue soon.


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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.


Here is a full copy of the order:

Download (PDF, 51KB)

 

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.

Hurricane_Wilma_200510212015

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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Remembering the 2004 Hurricane Season and Looking Ahead to 2014

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

Let’s not only think about what the 2014 Hurricane season may bring. Let’s also remember that this is the ten year anniversary of the most memorable hurricane season ever.


hurricane

This photograph is from this fantastic Palm Beach Post story that inspired this article.


Remembering 2004

Before we talk about what could happen in 2014, can you believe it is the 10 year anniversary of the most notable hurricane season ever?

Ten years ago, in 2004, Floridians experienced these four powerful hurricanes and their landfall windspeeds and locations:

  • Hurricane Charley: 145 mph, landfall in Fort Myers
  • Hurricane Frances: 105 mph, landfall in Stuart, Port St. Lucie, and Jensen Beach
  • Hurricane Ivan: 130 mph, landfall in the Panhandle
  • Hurricane Jeanne: 120 mph, landfall in Stuart, Port St. Lucie, and Jensen Beach

The hurricanes ravaged Florida, from Key West to Pensacola.  As a former Stuart, Florida resident, I can remember what it was like to clean up after not one, but two hurricanes in a few weeks.  Never in Florida’s history have we seen that many punishing hurricanes in one season. Sadly, 125 Floridians reportedly passed away because of the four storms.

And the economic damages from these storms were earth-shattering:

  • Hurricane Charley: $14 billion
  • Hurricane Frances: $4 billion
  • Hurricane Ivan: $5-$15 billion
  • Hurricane Jeanne: $6-$8 billion

Ten Years Later

Ten years later, the 2014 hurricane season started June 1st.  The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.  Who would have ever predicted we would go another eight years without a hurricane?

Since 2005, resinsurance rates have dropped.  As a result, Florida homeowners insurers are more financially prepared for this hurricane season than any before.  Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund has accumulated $13 billion, and Citizens has a $7.6 billion surplus.

As First Party Property Insurance Blog discussed last month, the Weather Channel forecasters predict 11 named storms this season.  Of the 11 named storms, Weather Channel predicts that five will become hurricanes and two will shape into major hurricanes.

According to forecasters, Floridians should stand to benefit from an El Nino pattern that will hold the number of storms below average.  Nevertheless, 80% of Florida’s residential and commercial property lies in vulnerable coastal areas.  These properties are valued at $3 trillion.

Ultimately, as the Tallahassee Democrat points out, hurricane predictions are more “guesses” than “predictions.”  As we all found out from Hurricane Sandy, all it takes is one major storm to cause nightmares and cost billions.

One thing we can all agree on: nobody wants another 2004 Hurricane Season.


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Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims for Hail Damage to the Roof

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

This article about hail damage and insurance claims is the most popular article on First Party Property Insurance Blog for a reason…

What happens when a homeowner has a roof leak?  Was the leak from the eventual wear and tear on the roof?  Or did hail cause the damage to the roof and the roof leak?  Is it covered by insurance, or it is not? How do I find out if it was hail?  What if my roofer is saying hail caused it, but I am not sure? These are some of the toughest questions facing homeowners and homeowners insurers today.

You have heard it in the news whether you are in the insurance industry or not: hail claims are increasing in rapid numbers.  Hail claims raise many insurance issues.  What do you need to know about them?


Understanding the Issue: Could the Actual Roof Be Covered by Homeowners’ Insurance?

Here is the issue: when an aged roof leaks, people understand that the Florida homeowners insurers will not pay to replace the roof. Most people know that the Florida homeowners insurers specifically exclude wear and tear from coverage, and the only time a homeowners insurer will pay for a new roof is if there was a hurricane or some other event. So, when a roof fails, people report a claim for the damage that was caused by the actual water leaking through the roof, but not the roof itself.

Now, however, people are reporting more hail claims than ever, and homeowners insurers are seeing some suspicious hail claims.

Why is this an issue?  Because if someone reports a roof leak as a hail claim instead of from wear and tear, the homeowner may be entitled to insurance coverage for the roof repairs (in addition to the damage from the water leak).

Thus, now you see where the suspicion comes in: when a homeowners insurer responds to dozens to hundreds of homeowners insurance claims where the adjuster cannot find hail damage on the roof … but the homeowners’ roofer is 100% certain that there is hail damage.

So, have homeowners insurers taken the suspicion too far?

Have the homeowners insurers’ attorneys taken the suspicion too far?

That’s what Chip Merlin says.  In that article, he explains his objections to this hail article in Claims Journal from Steve Badger, an attorney who represents homeowners insurance companies.


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.


I am not going to say who is right and who is wrong, but I will take the chance to quickly point out some of homeowners insurers’ biggest mistakes when handling an insurance claim for hail damage, and how to fix them.

The Mistakes in Handling a Hail Claim

In my experience, the worst thing an insurer can do is simply hand a hail damage property insurance claim to an adjuster or attorney and ask them to have an engineer or roofer provide a cause and origin opinion. First, its expensive.  Second, it will become even more expensive if the insurer relies solely on the expert without considering whether there is evidence of a hailstorm in that area.

Easy Ways to Avoid Costly Mistakes

Even if you don’t have your own database to evaluate similar claims in the area, similar claims from that roofer, or similar claims from that attorney, there are plenty of databases that reflect evidence of a hail storm, including online search tools (Hailstrike and StormIntel for example) and public records requests to see if anyone else in the neighborhood replaced their roof.

If there is evidence of hail reports in the area, it will be difficult and costly to defend against coverage, and the insurer should use the available technology to limit its loss adjustment expenses moving forward.  If there were not any hail reports, then a cause and origin expert and attorney might be necessary to solidify a defense (wear and tear, marring, and oftentimes late notice).

As the author of the Claims Journal article noted, the only ways to actually stop suspicious claims would be to amend policies and statutes. Otherwise, insurers’ most likely method of defending this cases requires a costly jury trial on the factual issue of causation.

Takeaway:

Remove the emotion and judgment from these cases and just focus on the facts.  How do you focus on the facts?  First, figure out what those facts are.

Next, once you have decided what you need to know about a claim to make a coverage decision, make a checklist, provide some guidelines, use software, or do anything.  Just don’t leave these determinations up to a subjective decision without any structured evaluation prepared by your top management and top attorneys.

Software can make this issue much simpler.  If you want to know more about how software is doing remarkable things to control hail claim litigation, 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.

home 3


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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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New Florida Federal Court Decides Franqui re Florida Sinkhole Structural Damage Definition and Sinkhole Testing Requirements

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Are you up to date with the latest Florida Court rulings on homeowners insurance, sinkhole claims, and sinkhole activity?  If you aren’t sure, then make sure to check out this article!


Federal Judge James Whittemore recently joined Judges Radabaugh, Merryday and Lazzara in finding that “structural damage” caused by sinkhole activity must mean more than “damage to the structure caused by sinkhole activity”  This litigation involved an insurance policy that did not incorporate the Senate Bill 408 “structural damage” definition; therefore, the parties disputed whether coverage for sinkhole activity required more than just cracks caused by sinkhole activity.

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More specifically, the Court answered the following questions:

  • Does “structural damage” mean “damage to the structure” or does it mean something more, such as:
  • (1) the five part definition in Fla. Stat. 627.706 (2011);
  • (2) damage to the load bearing portions of the property; or
  • (3) damage that could cause the house to collapse?
  • Does an insurer with a pre-408 policy breach the policy when it does not conduct a full subsidence investigation in accordance with the pre-408 version of Fla. Stat. 627.707?

Structural Damage: The Court ruled “structural damage” in this insurance policy means “damage to the structural components of the building, excluding damage that is cosmetic in nature.”

Testing Requirements: Judge Whittemore also determined that Liberty Mutual did not breach the policy when it did not conduct a “full” subsidence investigation to eliminate sinkhole activity as a cause of the damage.

Analysis:

Here is the complete order:

Download (PDF, 829KB)

Again, we see trial courts construing the words “structural damage” to mean more than what we are used to seeing.  As you know, 20+ courts have determined “structural damage” simply meant “damage to the structure.”  This “lowered” standard resulted in any cracks triggering coverage for “sinkhole loss.”  With the newer interpretations, though, courts are now asking the homeowners’ expert to show that the sinkhole activity is causing substantial damage to important parts of the property.

As you know, this issue only remains relevant to those claims and cases arising under policies without a definition of “structural damage.”  Since late 2012, many of the insurers added a definition and removed all doubt on this issue.  Nevertheless, thousands of cases remain with these pre-408 policies, so these rulings could continue to build substantial momentum for insurers.

Conclusion:

I think the most amazing thing about this line of decisions is that this issue is still relevant in 2014.  Why is the “structural damage” issue still relevant?  If insurers had innovative services in 2006 using the same arguments they had now, they would be done paying the millions it continues to cost to litigate these issues, and the “structural damage” issue would have been irrelevant (one way or the other) 8 years ago.


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A Rare Win Win in Property Insurance as Citizens Settles Portion of Confirmed Sinkhole Claims

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

What happens when Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and a group of Plaintiffs’/Policyholders’ attorneys decide that the litigation just doesn’t make business sense anymore? Read this first of a series on Citizens’s multimillion dollar settlements with plaintiffs’ attorneys to resolve hundreds of sinkhole cases.


Quick Update:

After this article was posted, Citizens settled an additional 300 cases with Thompson Trial Group and 600 cases with Marshall Thomas Burnett.  Make sure to read those articles after you finish this one.

Correction: The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that Citizens may have reported the settlement without having confirmed that the policyholders agreed to it.  For more information on this and other issues relating to Citizens’s legal defenses, see this March 18, 2013 article.

Nevertheless, because it appears the policyholders’ attorneys in this settlement agree this is a good outcome for their clients, there is a good chance that many of these cases will get resolved.  If new information arises, I will update this article.

On March 12, 2014, Citizens announced it will settle 300 policyholders’ confirmed sinkhole claims.  The terms of the settlement include:

  • Citizens agrees to pay for the repairs and stand by the repairs
  • Citizens agrees to allow policyholders to choose their contractors from a pre-approved list
  • Citizens will pay the policyholders’ law firms $2M – $5,000.00 per nonlitigated cases, $10,000.00 per litigated cases

Here is the press release:

Download (PDF, 66KB)

Citizens’ press release applauded coordinating counsel for the settlement.  In the press release, Citizens states that this settlement will save it $30M in legal fees.

contract 4

In my opinion, this appears to be a win-win for both parties.  No one can be sure without reviewing the terms of the releases; however, what is clear is that (1) the policyholders will obtain repaired homes and (2) Citizens will be spending its money repairing homes, instead of litigating these issues.  That means the parties achieved what they set out to do.

Although you might argue that this result could have happened sooner, both sides had significant victories over the past year or so, and this allowed each side to modify their position towards the middle.  This settlement shows that both sides had a mutual respect for each other and put Florida’s and the policyholders’ interests ahead of their own. Congratulations to all involved.

This is also a win for litigation project management. Innovative services like THIS are the only way to effectively handle property insurance litigation.  These cases were not that complicated when you approach them categorically.  For insurers with more than 5-10 law firms handling their cases, panel counsel need a coordinating counsel or a software tool that performs the same tasks and oversight. Panel counsel simply do not have the tools or the incentives to make these types of decisions.

Applying litigation project management principles, coordinating counsel and/or equivalent software needs to direct panel counsel by (1) identifying the insurers’ goals with the client, (2) breaking down each stage of litigation, and (3) determining how to optimize the process at each stage (and not waste money).

Coordinating counsel must also identify and automate the routine tasks, and insurers can purchase customized software for litigating property insurance claims in Florida to automate the routine tasks. Otherwise, all the time and money goes towards attorneys and adjuster laboring over routine tasks all day, and there is no time for critical thinking.

As you can see from the Citizens example, when insurers set up the structure to make intelligent results happen, intelligent results happen. Companies that make these tough, innovative decisions will be rewarded.  Companies that punt these tasks to their attorneys without a top-down strategy will waste millions of dollar and hours to achieve less favorable results.

Takeaway:

Citizens did a phenomenal job of embracing litigation project management.  If they would have added the key component of software to the mix, they could have really gained power and control over these cases from the lawyers.  If you want checklists and guides to help you reach results even better than this without spending a fraction of what Citizens spent, please message me.


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Florida’s 5th DCA Enforces Homeowners Insurance Sinkhole Stabilization Contract for Repair Requirement

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

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.

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The full order is here:

Download (PDF, 72KB)

http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/4fa29707eab8eaf23d000005/sinkhole.jpg

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.

Takeaway:

I have all of the forms and strategies you need to make results like these a reality in any case.  If you are interested in seeing templates, checklists, and guides to assist you with your sinkhole case, please message me.


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A $7M Alleged Insurance Fraud and the Espinosa Arrest Affidavit

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

Overview:

It’s not too often that suspicions of insurance fraud lead to a lot of evidence, but First Party Property Insurance Blog’s article on this public adjuster’s alleged fraud ring has plenty of details regarding how Miami-Dade police plan to prove their case.  This is a story about arrests, fires, water leaks, public adjusters, and more.  Check this article out to learn more about the Jorge Espinosa case and what you need to know.

And check out our update from May 22, 2015 after the break.


Update

May 22, 2015

31 people have now been arrested. Police raided Espinosa’s house and arrested him for the additional charges of racketeering, arson, and grand theft. As this article explains, police allege Espinosa is responsible for 20 fires and 5 floods.

As discussed below, if this turns out to be true, this is very unfortunate. As I said one year ago on the subject, Florida’s public adjusters can make plenty of money without defrauding insurers. Most public adjusters do practice within the confines of the law, but these bad apples ruin it for everyone – increased scrutiny, increased claim costs, increased policy premiums.

Additionally, this is just more lesson for homeowners insurers. It’s 2015: technology can provides insurers with the ability to know everything about their claims in an instant. Claims professionals armed with technology identify fraud better, faster, and cheaper than professionals using antiquated claims systems.

With the right time and effort, any insurer can have automated reports on all of the key claim factors. Or, without any effort at all, any insurer can use CaseGlide to have vendors populate this data for them, and arm their claims team with actionable analytics on all of their claims.


Original Story

For those of you who missed it, Miami detectives recently concluded a thorough investigation into a potential $7.6M homeowner’s insurance fraud scheme, and arrested 22 people.

from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-HWm_qXNcim4/TpxrZhFP7EI/AAAAAAAAAPw/SyoyB9ayj7U/s320/20070727_sbcfire_house_fire3.jpg


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.


If you haven’t heard about this fraud ring, here is the complete arrest affidavit. It’s a must read:

Download (PDF, 3.96MB)

Although I recommend reading the affidavit front to back, here is my summary:

The fraud investigation centers on Jorge Espinosa of Nationwide Adjusters, LLC.  In short, the arrest affidavit alleges that Espinosa and dozens more had a relatively complex ring involving several parties and a referral network. They allegedly had “runners” recruiting homeowners, remediation companies creating exorbitant bills, and fire and water leak creators.  Further, the arrest affidavit details that certain attorneys allegedly knew that the claims were fraudulent, not covered, yet allegedly continued to represent the homeowners.  The alleged fraud amounts to over $7M.

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Frankly, if the allegations are true, there is no place for this.  There are hundreds of Florida public adjusters and policyholders’ attorneys that make plenty of money without filing any fraudulent claims. Furthermore, claims personnel will never forget this, and now they must to increase their claim scrutiny moving forward to make sure they are doing their job, whether it means conducting more examinations under oath or enforcing other conditions precedent.  This slows the claim process for innocent homeowners. In addition, instead of helping resolve new claims, insurers must assign personnel to investigate their old claims to see if they may have been defrauded.

Ultimately, this investigation is in its very early stages.  We will see whether there is more cooperation that could result in revelations about additional schemes.

Disclaimer: All of the people in the arrest affidavit are innocent until proven guilty.  Charges are often dropped or reduced.


Takeaway:

How can something like this happen? It’s easy when homeowners insurers have hundreds of people handling claims and cases without any ability to easily share and retrieve information. Although most insurers probably had personnel talk about these things at the water cooler at lunch, only one carrier had the wherewithal to take the time to stop this alleged fraud.  What does this say about the way homeowners insurers do business?  Shouldn’t every insurer set up their staff to have the opportunity, time, and resources to conduct this investigation when they need to.

If you want to be able to have all of your claim and case information searchable, reportable, easily retrievable, and usable for the next case, please message me.


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