The fact pattern is simple and quite common. An association suffered damages from Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005, and immediately notified its insurance carrier that the loss had occurred. The insurance carrier, in turn, retained an adjuster to investigate the loss and determine what was owed under the policy. After a brief inspection, the adjuster determines that the damages do not exceed the large hurricane deductible contained in the policy and denies payment.
Later, after the damages become more evident, the association finds that the damages from Hurricane Wilma were much more severe than originally thought. Roof leaks begin to appear, sliding glass doors and windows appear fogged or do not work properly, and residents begin to complain. At that point, the association hires its own consultant to do a full investigation, asks the insurance carrier to re-assess the previous denial and pay what is owed under the policy.
The scenario above was common to a large number of condominium associations over the past few years. This has led insurance carriers and their attorneys to come up with ways to attempt to avoid payment, many of which have relied on so called “late notice” defenses to fight coverage.
Recently, in Ocean View Towers Association, Inc. v. QBE Insurance Corporation, a federal trial court in the Southern District of Florida heard argument on competing motions for summary judgment. One of the main issues was whether the association was barred from recovery because it had not notified QBE of the additional damages and instead filed suit for breach of contract.
The court rejected QBE’s “late notice” arguments, finding that the clear and unambiguous language of the policy controlled the obligations of the policyholder. The policy, like most policies, required Ocean View to “[g]ive [QBE] prompt notice of the loss or damage” and “[i]nclude a description of the property involved.” Based on this requirement, the court determined that since Ocean View undisputedly provided prompt notice that Hurricane Wilma had damaged the property and had included a description of the damages known at that time, Ocean View had fulfilled its requirements under the policy and was not required to do more. As the court noted, QBE had ample opportunity to inspect and adjust the loss after the Hurricane and simply chose not to utilize all the means at its discretion.
This is an important case that all adjusters, attorneys, and insurance professionals should read carefully. Numerous other issues are addressed in the opinion, aside from the notice issue, however, those are highly technical and do not lend themselves to a single post. This decision will undoubtedly be cited by both sides in legal briefs for a long time.