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Key Questions to Consider in Light of Operation Rubicon’s Investigation into Insurance Fraud in South Florida

Law enforcement in Miami-Dade County, Florida recently arrested nine individuals described by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis as the “ringleaders of an elaborate fraud scheme” led by Barbara Maria Diaz de Villegas,[1] owner of the public adjusting company The Rubicon Group.[2]  The arrests were the result of a year-long investigation, known as “Operation Rubicon,” to investigate insurance fraud, and demonstrate that efforts are being made to curb insurance fraud in South Florida.  According to a February 2019 report from the Federal Trade Commission, Florida is ranked as the number one state for fraud and is home to 18 of the top 50 cities in the United States in terms of fraud reports.[3] The alleged fraud scheme involved public adjusters,

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Posted in Water

Collapse Coverage: Second Circuit Holds That Cracking Walls Do Not Constitute “Collapse”

Most homeowners’ policies – and property insurance policies in general – contain a limited coverage extension for “collapse.”  The interpretation of that collapse coverage has been litigated around the country for decades, with different jurisdictions reaching considerably different results.  The latest of these decisions, Valls v. Allstate Insurance Company, No. 17-3495-cv (2d Cir. 2019), comes out of the Second Circuit, deciding the case under Connecticut law.  The case presented a single substantive question: does the “collapse” provision afford coverage for basement walls which had significant cracking but remain standing?  Both the district court (D. Conn.) and the Second Circuit Court of Appeal concluded that it does not. In Valls, the plaintiffs owned a home in Connecticut which was insured by

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Posted in Collapse

Eleventh Circuit Holds Attorneys’ Fees Are Not Warranted Where Policyholder Filed Suit Instead of Undergoing Appraisal

The Eleventh Circuit, in J.P.F.D. Investment Corp. v. United Specialty Insurance Co., recently affirmed a district court’s denial of statutory attorneys’ fees to a policyholder that, to resolve a disagreement over the amount of loss, filed suit against its insurer instead of participating in appraisal.[1] In Florida, policyholder attorneys are often quick to file lawsuits against insurers in order to trigger statutory fee shifting. Florida Statutes § 627.428 provides: (1) Upon the rendition of a judgment or decree by any of the courts of this state against an insurer and in favor of any named or omnibus insured or the named beneficiary under a policy or contract executed by the insurer, the trial court . . .  shall adjudge or decree

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Posted in Water

Florida Supreme Court Invited to Resolve Assignment-Of-Benefits Controversy

Introduction At least two Florida appellate courts have directly contradicted each other on an increasingly-important question facing Floridians and the insurance industry. The question is as follows: “Are insurance provisions valid which condition the validity of third-party benefits assignments upon the written consent of all insureds and named property mortgagees?” The answer to this question is important because Floridian policyholders often assign their insurance rights to construction companies post-loss to receive services without up-front payment. The Florida Supreme Court was recently asked to answer this important question, and it is likely to weigh in, although it has not yet formally decided to do so. Public Policy Public policy concerns animate assignment-of-benefits (“AOB”) legal disputes in Florida. Florida construction companies and

Posted in Additional Insureds, Co-Insureds, Conditions, Coverage, Flood, Homeowners Coverage, Mortgagees

Texas Court Holds That Unpaid Appraisal Award Does Not Conclusively Establish Causation or Damages in Hurricane Ike Insurance Dispute

While Hurricane Ike made landfall in Texas almost ten years ago, the resulting litigation is alive and well as evidenced by the recent decision in Texas Windstorm Insurance Association v. Dickinson Independent School District, 14-16-00474-CV, 2018 WL 2436924 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] May 31, 2018, no pet. h.). In that case, Houston’s Fourteenth District Court of Appeals addressed whether an unpaid appraisal award established an insurance company’s liability under a named-peril insurance policy as a matter of law.  In analyzing and applying the Supreme Court of Texas’s decision in State Farm Lloyds v. Johnson, 290 S.W.3d 886 (Tex. 2009), the court held that the appraisal award, by itself, did not conclusively establish liability for purposes of the policyholder’s motion for

Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Hurricane, Hurricane Ike

Flood Exclusion Unambiguously Excludes Coverage For $49.5M In Hurricane Sandy Losses Caused By Storm Surge

Cozen O’Connor attorneys Thomas McKay III, Richard Mackowsky, Charles Jesuit, and Melissa Brill recently secured summary judgment from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in favor of Great Northern Insurance Company on claims asserted by Madelaine Chocolate Novelties seeking $49.5 million in coverage for Hurricane Sandy-related losses under an “all risk” property and business interruption policy. Madelaine manufactures seasonal foiled chocolates. It conducts its business in three buildings located in Rockaway Beach, New York, about three blocks north of the Atlantic Ocean and one block south of the Long Island Sound. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused substantial damage to Madelaine’s facilities mainly from the inundation of seawater that rose approximately four feet

Posted in Flood

Texas Reforms Insurance Litigation – Section 542A of the Texas Insurance Code 60 Days to Get Your House in Order

Texas has finally enacted statutory reforms specifically designed to combat abusive insurance litigation. Enacted primarily in response to hailstorm lawsuits, the scope of the reforms are much broader. Effective September 1, 2017, Section 542A of the Texas Insurance Code governs all lawsuits arising out of insurance claims where the damage was caused, either directly or indirectly, by the weather or other “forces of nature.” Importantly, Section 542A finally affords insurers the opportunity to amicably resolve disputed claims without protracted litigation. However, insurers need to be prepared to make quick strategic decisions to take advantage of the law’s protections. The practical effect of Section 542A is to give insurers 60 days to “get their house in order” and make decisions that

Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Bad Faith, Hailstorm, Investigation, Loss Adjustment

“Context Matters” – Tenth Circuit Holds Mudslide Not an Explosion Under Property Policy

On August 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed a Colorado district court ruling that the sudden obliteration of a building in a 2013 mudslide did not constitute an “explosion” under a commercial property policy. Accordingly, coverage for the loss was barred under the policy’s “Water Exclusion Endorsement,” which excluded coverage for, among other perils, “[m]udslide or mudflow.” Although the exclusion contained an exception for resulting losses caused by “fire explosion, or sprinkler leakage,” the Tenth Circuit held that the destruction of the building did not constitute an explosion as used in the exception to the exclusion. In construing the meaning of “explosion” as used in the water exclusion, the court emphasized that “context matters,”

Posted in Coverage, Exclusions, Mudslide, Water

Summary Judgment May Be Appropriate When Insured Fails to Take Reasonable Measures to Prevent Property Damage

Many first party property insurance policies exclude claims for water damage that occurs when the insured premises is left vacant or unoccupied, unless the insured has used reasonable care to prevent such losses. In litigation challenging the denial of such claims, whether or not the insured’s actions in preventing property damage were reasonable is generally treated as a question of fact to be decided by a jury. However, when the facts are not disputed, and there are no credibility issues presented, a court may grant summary judgment on behalf of the insurer upholding the denial. Such a result recently occurred in a Pennsylvania case involving substantial losses as a result of water damage from burst pipes. Micalis Pazianas, M.D., et

Posted in Freezing, Homeowners Coverage, Vacant or Unoccupied, Water, Water

Workmanship and Earth Movement Exclusions Preclude Coverage for Collapse As a Matter of Law

A U.S. federal district court recently granted Peerless Insurance’s summary judgment motion, concluding that, as a matter of law, under Virginia law, a property policy insuring a building under renovation would not provide coverage for a collapsed basement wall due to a subcontractor’s lack of shoring,. Taja Investments LLC v. Peerless Ins. Co. a/k/a Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., Civ. No. 1:15-cv-01647, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95760 (E. D. VA, July 21, 2016). The plaintiff insured, Taja Investments, was a construction company, which was excavating a 4-5 foot crawlspace under a building to create a space with a 9 foot depth in order to allow for additional living areas. The insured’s claim arose out of the collapse of one of the basement

Posted in Coverage, Earth Movement, Exclusions, Faulty Workmanship or Design
About The Property Insurance Law Observer
For more than four decades, Cozen O’Connor has represented all types of property insurers in jurisdictions throughout the United States, and it is dedicated to keeping its clients abreast of developments that impact the insurance industry. The Property Insurance Law Observer will survey court decisions, enacted or proposed legislation, and regulatory activities from all 50 states. We will also include commentary on current issues and developing trends of interest to first-party insurers.
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