As with most important rulings, a recent appellate court decision in favor of a Florida condominium association has been making the rounds through the national insurance news. In Slow, Late, and Delayed Replacement or Repair – – A Case That Helps Policyholders, Chip Merlin wrote about a recent Florida appellate decision in Axis Surplus Insurance Company v. Caribbean Beach Club Association.1 While the trial court rulings in favor of the association were upheld on multiple grounds, the appellate court wrote to highlight why the insurance carrier waived certain time limitation provisions in the policy.
Just in time for hurricane season, the Florida Supreme Court, finally made its decision on numerous important issues that have a dramatic effect on insurance law in the state. As Chip Merlin mentioned in his recent post “Policyholders Lose Rights in Florida Courts,” the Court recently rejected a condominium association’s arguments relating to five important questions of law in QBE Insurance Corporation v. Chalfonte Condominium Association Inc., Case No. SC09-441 (Fla. May 31, 2012).
There is a lot of litigation from Hurricane Wilma still proceeding in Florida state and federal courts. Much of that litigation has concerned whether the policyholders have complied with their post-loss duties to submit information, documentation and appear for examination under oath. During the last year or so, probably the heaviest litigated issue concerns whether the policyholder gave adequate notice of the loss to the insurer as required by policy terms. Insurers that raise such a defense are looking for a judgment on a technicality, and request the court to declare that they have no responsibility for any damages because the policyholder breached their duty to notify them of the loss.
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.
On March 7, 2011, Jeremy Tyler wrote Litigating The Right To Resolve Disputes Without Litigation, providing an excellent synopsis of various appeals Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) pursued in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal related to compliance with policy conditions before appraisal. He discussed how Citizens is forcing policyholders to “proceed with evidentiary hearings to prove entitlement to an alternative dispute resolution proceeding that was, ironically, created as an alternative to litigation.” With so much contractual and judicial support for appraisal, policyholders may wonder what this evidentiary hearing that Citizens keeps requesting is supposed to accomplish.
Almost twelve years ago, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal published its opinion in U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Romay, 744 So. 2d 467 (Fla. 3d DCA 1999). As of the writing of this post, Romay has been cited in no less than 44 published court opinions. Most of these cases, like the recent Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp. v. Gutierrez, 59 So. 3d 177 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011), cite the language from Romay which requires that “[t]he insured must comply with all of the policy’s post-loss obligations before the appraisal clause is triggered.” Unfortunately, this statement is only half of Romay. This is the half that focuses on the insured’s obligations. There is another side of Romay that focuses on the insurer’s obligations, and although this other side is not often discussed, it recently found its way into a published opinion from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 200 Leslie Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. QBE Ins. Corp., No. 10-61984-CIV, 2011 WL 2470344 (S.D. Fla. June 21, 2011).
With the passage of Senate Bill 408, (Chapter Law 11-39), many have asked how the new laws will affect their current insurance claims. While sweeping changes are rarely passed, even a small change in a law can determine the outcome of a claim.
When a new condominium is constructed, the developer initially owns the property. Typically the developer will start selling individual condominium units, but maintain ownership and control over the common elements and unsold individual units. At some point, usually after a majority of the individual units have been sold, the developer will turn over ownership and control of the common elements to an association of individual condominium unit owners. These are usually times of transition, and different parties at different times carry different interests in the property. When an insured loss occurs during these transitory times, complicated issues can arise regarding who is entitled to insurance benefits.
The Southern District Court in Florida recently issued an unreported opinion involving a discovery dispute between the parties where the insurer sought to have the condominium association’s expert reports stricken from consideration at trial because they were not timely disclosed. The ruling focused on disclosure requirements found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The crux of the condominium association’s case was potentially at stake in this dispute.
A standard clause in most property insurance policies requires an insured to sit for an examination under oath (EUO) if the insurance company requests one during the claims process. This clause is often listed as one of the insured’s duties after loss. A separate clause, sometimes entitled “Suit Against Us,” may also require that the insured comply with its post-loss duties before suit may be filed against the insurer. The question of whether an insured condominium association complied with its duty to sit for an EUO before filing suit was one of the issues discussed in the case of El-Ad Enclave at Miramar Condo. Ass’n, Inc. v. Mt. Hawley Ins. Co., 752 F. Supp. 2d 1282 (S.D. Fla. 2010).