Tag Archives: Water Damage Claims

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)

 

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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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.

fire 2

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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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 Florida Policyholders Bill of Rights Working Group Issues its Final Report

Florida Homeowners Insurance Claims and Litigation Handbook


ins a

As discussed this summer, Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott organized a Bill of Rights Working Group to create a Bill of Rights for Florida’s insureds.  They addressed the following issues in great detail:

  • education, transparency, and monitoring the insurance marketplace;
  • improvements to the claim process;
  • assignment of benefits and emergency remediation companies;
  • examinations under oath;
  • alternative dispute resolution;
  • post-claim underwriting; and
  • coverage provided by repair rather than indemnity payments.

The final report is here:

Download (PDF, 2.16MB)

The Group wants the Bill of Rights to have a lasting impact.  For the parts of the Bill that reflect existing case law, they want the Bill to codify the existing case law into statutory law.  For the parts of the Bill that are not yet law, they want the Bill to make new law. Lastly, there is an educational component.  To help insureds navigate claims, they want insurers to provide insureds with a copy of the Bill when they file a claim.

The report is a great snapshot of today’s insurance industry concerns.  I think the Group did a great job of addressing the current landscape.  My only criticism is that I would have liked the Group to disclose, in the Bill, some of the data on these claims.  To get the new recommendations turned into law, the Group should disclose the data that proves these concerns are justified.  In all fairness, the Group might not have needed the data.  The Group was comprised of several insurance professionals with decades of experience.  Thus, they likely used their private data to form their conclusions and recommendations, even if they did not disclose it.

I think the Bill of Rights will be very helpful for insureds when navigating a claim; however, the Bill’s primary impact on insurers appears to be focused on the assignment of benefit-water extraction claims.  If the legislature adopted all the recommendations, AOB contractors will have some new obstacles to deal with, including licensing requirements; limitations to the scope of their AOB contracts; and compliance with certain standards for water extraction.

Aside from the AOB-related recommendations, the rest of the Bill codifies/creates obligations and limitations for insurers, including more standards for communicating during the claim and examination under oath process; prohibitions on post-claim underwriting; and expectations for insurers when they elect to repair.  Ultimately, some of these obligations are already existing law, and I bet most insurers already comply with the majority of the recommendations.

Only time will tell the impact of the Group and its recommendations. There is no doubt that they discussed a lot of major concerns.  We will wait and see what the legislature does with these recommendations. When that time arises, I will keep you posted.

Takeaway:

The assignment of benefits issue is not going way, and its up to insurers to not let this be the next attorney-driven trend.

How can insurers deal with the assignment of benefits issue?  First, get the best management and attorneys together and decide exactly what to do on these cases. Second, pay for routine documents and evaluations only once, then automate any documents or processes that will occur in all of these cases.  Third, enter all of the case information into software (instead of Word documents and emails) so that you can use data to help guide you towards settlement.  Fourth, as failures and successes arise, continue to optimize your system to ensure you achieve the best possible outcomes while spending the least.

If you have any questions or would like to see checklists or guides for handling assignment of benefits cases, please message me.


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

cover3

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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Assignment of Benefit Homeowner Insurance Claims and Bill of Rights Working Group (Video)

Florida AOB & Industry Litigation Trend Report Image

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

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 link below to buy copies for you, your colleagues, and your partners.


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At the Bill of Rights Working Group recent meeting, Mr. Dry Out‘s Matthew Jerabek explained his concerns with the AOB contractors in the water damage claim industry.  Below is the video of his statements to the Working Group.  To be safe, I cannot promise that his statements are true because I have zero personal knowledge regarding the allegations; however, I think anyone who handles these claims would want to have the opportunity to hear his statements.

The Video

Embedly Powered

Although this may lead some carriers to take approaches based on emotion, assignment of benefits cases are the perfect type of case for statistical data evaluations to drive decision making.  They are also the perfect type of case to use document automation and litigation project management to achieve better outcomes at a fraction of the costs.

Don’t hire attorneys to have junior associates get you nowhere on these files for thousands of dollars.  If you want checklists, guides, or legal document templates for handling claims like this one, please message me.


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AOB Claims and the Bill of Rights Working Group

Florida AOB & Industry Litigation Trend Report Image

Overview:

After a water leak, homeowners often hire a contractor to make emergency repairs.  Contractors and homeowners and insurers often disagree about the cost to repair.  Read this article to learn how insurers, contractors, and the legislature are trying to resolve this dispute.


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

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 link below to buy copies for you, your colleagues, and your partners.


Add to CartView Cart


Johnson Strategies authored a fantastic post today about the impact of assignment of benefit claims on insurers and how the Homeowners’ Policy and Claims Bill of Rights Working Group is trying to address this problem.

How much are insurers losing as a result of the AOB claims?  Here is a quote from the post:

Addressing fraud this systemic starts with understanding that water damage claims are number one across all insurers–approaching 50% of  the total annual claim payout, with an average claim often in excess of $10,000. Using Citizens as a gauge, the 2012 total forecasted payout just for bursting pipes (not weather related roof leaks, or back up of sewers, etc) was in excess of $142,000,000. 

Using a hypothetical carrier with 180,000 policies I showed how just the deductible and plumbers’ referral fee resulted in fraudulent claim inflation of $3,375,000 every year.  

For all Florida property carriers including Citizens that’s roughly $150 million annually.

Then…when you add in the cost of unnecessary repairs, unnecessary drying services or water detection and the rank-and-file up-charging that everyone knows (and ICA workshop testimony confirms) is rampant, well…you get the ugly picture.

See the full post here (parentheticals omitted)(emphasis added).

Johnson Strategies suggests the legislature address the following concerns:

  • the substantial financial incentive for plumbers to refer AOB contractors;
  • AOB contractors perform all of the water damage mitigation services;
  • loose licensing requirements;
  • no required permits;
  • no required inspections; and
  • no requirement for pre-work estimates.

The Working Group made suggestions to address all of these concerns. Now, we must wait to see whether identifying these issues will be followed with a genuine solution from the legislature.

 Takeaway:

Although this may lead some carriers to take approaches based on emotion, assignment of benefits cases are the perfect type of case for statistical data evaluations to drive decision making.  They are also the perfect type of case to use document automation and litigation project management to achieve better outcomes at a fraction of the costs.

Don’t hire attorneys to have junior associates get you nowhere on these files for millions of dollars.  If you want checklists, guides, or legal document templates for handling claims like this one, please message me.


Getting Started

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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.