Tag Archives: hurricane prompt notice

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.


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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 Courts on the Prompt Notice Provision in Homeowners Hurricane Insurance Claims

Overview:

When is it too late to submit an insurance claim for damage to your property?  What examples have homeowners and homeowners insurers learned from?  Where can we look to for guidance when a complicated set of facts leads to some confusion about when a hurricane insurance claim (or other claims) needs to be reported to the insurance company?  Find out these answers and more by reading this article.

First Party Property Insurance Blog is Proud to Announce our New E-Book: the Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook.

We’re so confident in this E-Book that we offer you a money-back guarantee if it does not have the information you and your insurance claims business needed to improve. Click the image of the E-Book now to buy it for your friends and clients today.


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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 I have been happy to help them obtain these results.  

Click here to see all of the late notice cases that came out since this post.  

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

In the past year, the “prompt notice” provision has been the subject of many detailed Florida decisions. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, in Yacht Club v. Lexington the federal court out of Florida’s Southern District made a strong statement by recently holding that, as a matter of law, an insured could not overcome the presumption of prejudice if the accuracy of the insurer’s investigation was jeopardized in any way by the late notice.

As discussed below, after determining the notice was late, the Florida courts spend most of their energy evaluating the evidence to assess whether the insured has anyone willing to say that the delay did not inhibit the insurer in any way from determining the cause of the damage. The common theme is that if that insured’s witness “sticks to his or her story,” Florida courts could hold that a jury issue exists. If the witness shows any doubt during his or her deposition or in the affidavit, then the courts are willing to grant summary judgment.

Below I have outlined the key facts from some of the more recent, relevant holdings.

July 18, 2012

Kramer v. State Farm, 95 So. 3d 303 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Holding: there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurer was prejudiced by the timing of the notice given by the insureds.

Delay: almost 5 years; the dates of loss were the dates of Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in September of 2004, and a roof leak in 2008, and the insureds did not report the claim until May of 2009.

Evidence failing to overcome summary judgment: an affidavit from the insureds’ engineer stating that the insurer’s expert could determine the cause of the damage, that wind damage and foot traffic were “equally likely” to have caused the damage, and that resetting of tiles prior to the engineer’s inspection did not allow the engineer to assess the full extent of the damages. The Court found that the engineer’s affidavits actually bolstered the insurer’s prejudice argument.

July 25, 2012

Soronson v. State Farm, 96 So. 3d 949 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Holding: there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurer was prejudiced by the timing of the notice given by the insureds.

Delay: approximately 3.5 years; the date of loss was the date of Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005, and the insureds did not report the claim until February of 2009.

Evidence failing to overcome summary judgment: an affidavit from the insureds with attached, unsworn engineer reports arguing that they did not make repairs and there have not been any windstorm events since Hurricane Wilma; therefore, the damage had to be caused by Wilma and the roof needed to be repaired in 2005 regardless of what occurred after.

September 7, 2012

Stark v. State Farm Florida Ins. Co., 95 So. 3d 285 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Holding: there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurer was prejudiced by the timing of the notice given by the insureds.

Delay: approximately 3.5 years; the date of loss was the date of Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005, and the insureds did not report the claim until March 9, 2009.

Evidence overcoming summary judgment: an affidavit from the insureds’ engineer identifying the ability to, after the report date, determine the cause of loss, and an affidavit from the insureds’ public adjuster stating that the insurer’s adjuster commented that he could identify the cause of the damage.

October 3, 2012

Slominski v. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, 99 So. 3d 973 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012)

Holding: there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurer was prejudiced by the timing of the notice given by the insureds.

Delay: approximately 3.5 years; the date of loss was the date of Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005.

Evidence failing to overcome summary judgment: an affidavit and deposition testimony from the insureds’ contractor stating that he could not be “100% sure” that the wind damage was caused by Wilma as opposed to Hurricane Frances in 2004, and that there was no way to differentiate water damage from one hurricane versus the other. Additionally, the insureds’ engineer had contradictory statements in his testimony versus his affidavit regarding whether he could determine when the staining and roof damage occurred. Ultimately, although the affidavits were similar to the Stark affidavits that supported the 4th DCA’s finding of a question of fact, the deposition testimony by the contractor and engineer contradicted the affidavits and, therefore, could not provide an evidentiary basis to overcome summary judgment.

April 3, 2013

1500 Coral Towers v. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, 2013 WL 1316416 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013)

Holding: there was no issue of fact as to whether the insurer was prejudiced by the timing of the notice given by the insureds.

Delay: approximately 5 years; the date of loss was the date of Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005, and the insured reported the claim on June 29, 2010.

Evidence failing to overcome summary judgment: according to the Court, the closest the insured came to presenting supporting evidence was one of its engineer’s conclusory statements that the late notice did not prejudice the insurer.

Conclusion

With the hurricane claims gone for now, one question is how this applies to other types of claims. I am particularly interested in how these cases apply to claims for sinkhole damage. If an insured reports a sinkhole claim with a date of loss of two years prior to the report date and does not provide any photographs or corroborating witnesses, is there any way for an insurer to hire an expert to make an independent determination as to whether the damage existed during the claimed policy period? The answer is no, and I think this is one of the biggest issues facing Florida insurers today. If the policy coverages have changed since the date of loss (as they often have as a result of the changes to the sinkhole statutes), then isn’t the insurer prejudiced because it could not independently verify which type of coverage applied? The insurer might have had to offer coverage for cracking if the date of loss occurred, say, in 2010, but in 2012 the insurer’s policy might only provide coverage for substantial impairment of the load bearing portions of the property.

Takeaway:

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

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