Tag Archives: Trial

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

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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

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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

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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 Litigation Update: Tampa Sinkhole Insurance Claims: Verdict Forms in Sinkhole Trials

Overview:

Check out one of the most popular articles on homeowners insurance litigation there is.  Thousands of people make a living on homeowners insurance claims, but only a small percentage of them understand why homeowners were so successful at litigating these claims.  Although these claims are dwindling, many lessons can be learned for the next wave of insurance claims.

Make sure to read to the end of this article so you can apply for our free Litigation Report.  By giving us that moment of your time, you will receive a free comprehensive analysis and sets of solutions to bring you power and control over your homeowners insurance litigation cases.


Getting Started

New to the First Party Property Insurance Blog? Take five minutes to find the answers to your insurance questions by clicking here.


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Good morning. I recently spoke with mediator, Robert Daisley, about the current state of sinkhole litigation. Rob is one of the most well respected mediators in Tampa. He is a great mediator because he emphasizes the uncertainties for the parties.

Rob has a strong grasp on the issues and uncertainties in sinkhole cases. Even when the insurer has done everything right in terms of payment and timeliness, Rob is not sure that the insurer will prevail. Why? Because there has been no direct appellate mandate on the proper jury instructions and verdict forms in sinkhole cases. Experienced trial lawyers start their evaluation of a case by crafting their jury instructions. As Rob suggested and as anyone who has handled sinkhole cases should know, judges are far from uniform in agreeing to jury instructions.

While there is plenty of appellate guidance on the issue, that guidance has been twisted and turned into a wide range of jury instructions and verdict forms. Thus, according to Rob, unless a party is prepared to pay its attorneys to litigate at the trial and appellate level, then that party is better off settling the case. The bottom line: knowing how many variations of jury instructions and verdict forms have been issued by the courts, you must be committed to both the trial and appeal to make sure that the court used the right verdict form.

The most critical variation at this time is the burden of proof in a denied sinkhole case. Some judges place the burden of proof on the homeowners to prove sinkhole activity caused the damage, while other judges require the insurers to prove the exclusions caused the damage. This issue is on appeal right now, however, we are months away from a ruling. Rob’s point here is unless you are committed to appealing a problematic verdict form, then trying the case might not be for you.

Another variation in the jury instructions is determining if the verdict form should be limited solely to whether the claim was allegedly underpaid. Some believe the verdict form should consider an insurer’s compliance with the policy and statutes. Others believe the verdict form should should only ask whether the claim was underpaid.

Rob believes that if a party is not committed to trying and appealing these issues, then the party runs the risk of trying the case with unfavorable jury instructions. The following set of verdict forms (check the variations) support his position:

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The inconsistencies in these forms are glaring, and insurers and homeowners alike should hope that the Second DCA narrows the issues in an effort to eliminate these inconsistencies. While many lawyers seem to believe they can prevail despite the verdict form, properly framed questions for the jury to answer are crucial. Kudos to Rob Daisley for stressing how these issues should impact insurers’ and homeowners’ outlooks on trying the cases.

So what went wrong here?  

There’s only one way to find out, by contacting me and subscribing to First Party Property Insurance Blog.

Takeaway:

If you want the legal forms and checklists to make your desired jury forms a reality, please message me.


Did this Article Answer Your Homeowners Insurance Question?

If not, then go to our Getting Started page by clicking here, where we have a guide with easy-to-find links to the laws, cases, and articles that will answer your question, or contact me.

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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.

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

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook

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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 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.