Last week in Can Insurers, Through Written Statements, Waive A Statute Of Limitations Defense?, I wrote about how Florida’s five-year statute of limitations applicable to the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes can be difficult to determine because it begins on the date an insurer breaches an insurance contract. Last week’s post discussed how the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that the statute of limitations defense can be waived by insurers through written statements. The Southern District recently analyzed whether a claim for declaratory relief related to a statute of limitations issue in a Hurricane Wilma case was ripe for determination.
In Summit Towers Condominium Association, Inc. v. QBE Insurance Corporation, the condominium association filed a lawsuit for breach of contract against QBE in Florida state court in October 2010, regarding a claim from Hurricane Wilma. The damaged property consisted of two twenty-five story buildings (567 units) and a three story parking garage. The association submitted an insurance claim to QBE, and QBE denied the claim in November 2005, asserting that the damages would not exceed the hurricane deductible of nearly $2 million. Summit Towers claimed the damages of approximately $11 million.
QBE removed the case to federal court and contested a count of the complaint which sought a declaration from the Court on the date that QBE breached the insurance contract, and the date the statute of limitations began to run.
The Court analyzed whether there was an actual dispute or controversy between the association and QBE surrounding the facts related to the statute of limitations. The court cited a case from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals which stated:
[A] justiciable controversy is . . . distinguished from a difference or dispute of a hypothetical or abstract character; from one that is academic or moot.
The Court explained that the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense which must be specifically pled and QBE had not yet raised a statute of limitations defense in the case. The Court ruled that,
If QBE has not raised the defense, there can be no ‘dispute’ that a declaratory judgment will resolve.
A unilateral concern, without a contrary position asserted by QBE, was apparently one of the decisive factors for the Court in ruling that the statute of limitations issue was not ripe for determination.
As this case and last week’s reveal, determining the date the statute of limitations begins to run in Florida is a fact specific analysis.