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Florida Court Rejects Claim Replacement Of Undamaged Property Is Necessary For Aesthetic Uniformity

Late last week a federal court in Florida tossed a condominium association’s claims that it was entitled to replace undamaged hallway carpeting, wallpaper, baseboards, and woodwork in order to “achieve aesthetic uniformity” with similar hallway components replaced after water damage.  In Great Amer. Ins. Co. v. Towers of Quayside No. 4 Condominium Ass’n., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150358, 2015 WL 6773870 (S.D. Fla., Nov. 4, 2015), the court held that replacing undamaged property to insure “matching” is only appropriate if the repairs concern “a continuous run” of items such as that. The policyholder owned a 25-story condominium building in Miami.  There was a tiled elevator landing on each floor separating the east and west hallways, and those portions of the

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Posted in Direct Physical Loss or Damage, Valuation, Water

Florida to Decide What Test Applies When Concurrent Multiple Perils Cause a Loss

For years, Florida courts have been seesawing between two different doctrines to determine whether there is coverage under a property policy when two perils – one excluded and one included — combine to cause a loss.  Two districts of the state’s intermediate level appellate court have applied one test and a third has applied another, with the most recent decision being American Home Assur. Co. v. Sebo, 141 So.3d 195 (Fla.Ct.App., Sep. 18, 2013).  On October 7th of last year, the state’s highest court accepted review in the Sebo matter, and oral argument was conducted on September 2, 2015.  Some clarity will finally emerge in the Sunshine State with respect to this issue. When multiple perils combine to cause a

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Posted in Anti-Concurrent Causation, Efficient Proximate Cause, Faulty Workmanship or Design, Homeowners Coverage, Hurricane Wilma, Water

Eleventh Circuit: Sinkhole Loss in Florida Must Impair the Property’s Structural Integrity to be Covered

Effective in 2005, Florida statutes defined “sinkhole loss” to mean “structural damage to the building, including the foundation, caused by sinkhole activity,” and they left the all-important term “structural damage” undefined.  Homeowner’s policies issued in the state employed that formulation until May 17, 2011, when Florida adopted a much narrower five-part definition of structural damage that applied to policies affording coverage for sinkhole loss, and many courts construing the 2005 language held that the term “structural damage” meant nothing more than “damage to the structure.”  Several weeks ago in Hegel v. First Liberty Ins. Corp., 778 F.3d 1214 (11th Cir., Feb. 27, 2015), a unanimous Eleventh Circuit panel held: (1) that defining structural damage to mean any “damage to the

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Posted in Direct Physical Loss or Damage, Homeowners Coverage, Sinkhole

Florida Court Holds Arson is a Type of Excluded Vandalism and Malicious Mischief

Earlier this month a unanimous Florida appellate court joined a number of other states that have held that an all-risk policy exclusion for vandalism and malicious mischief operates to bar coverage for an arson loss.  The opinion can be found at Botee v. Southern Fid. Ins. Co., 2015 WL 477836, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 1566 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Feb. 6, 2015). The insured, Raziya Botee, owned a single-family home that was destroyed by an arsonist on October 10, 2012.  It was undisputed that the structure had been vacant for over a month when the fire broke out.  Her homeowner’s insurer, Southern Fidelity (SFIC), denied liability because the contract of insurance excluded coverage for losses caused by “vandalism and malicious mischief, theft or

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Posted in All Risk, Ambiguity, Arson, Exclusions, Fire, Vacancy and Unoccupancy, Vandalism

Late Notice Held to Bar a $6,000,000 Hurricane Wilma Claim in Florida

In The Yacht Club on the Intracoastal Condo. Ass’n. v. Lexington Ins. Co., –  Fed.Appx. –, 2015 WL 106862, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 293 (11h Cir., Jan. 8, 2015), a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit recently held that a Florida condominium association’s multi-million claim for extensive Hurricane Wilma damage was barred because the insured failed to give notice of loss for fully 55 months.  The policyholder’s arguments that it was initially unaware that the damage exceeded the deductible and that it had created an issue of fact with respect to whether the presumption of prejudice had been rebutted because both parties were ultimately able to put up expert evidence of causation were unavailing. The Yacht Club had 380 units

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Posted in Conditions, Hurricane, Hurricane Wilma, Investigation, Notice, Prejudice

If You Post It, Your Opponent Can Probably Discover It

In March we ran a post on how important videos, photographs, and statements on social media sites can be when investigating a property loss.  A picture is literally worth a thousand words.  Earlier this month, a Florida court explained that such material is also discoverable – even in situations where the policyholder employs privacy settings that prevent the general public from having access to his or her account – because the user’s privacy interest in such a site is “minimal, if any.”  Nucci v. Target Corp., – So.3d –, 2015 WL 71726, 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 153 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Jan. 7, 2015) involved a slip-and-fall, but it applies with equal force to discovery in a first-party matter. Maria Nucci filed a

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Posted in Discovery, Investigation, Reasonable Expectations

Florida Court: Under All-Risk Policy, Insured Does Not Bear Burden of Showing Loss Was Caused by a Sinkhole

On November 26th, a unanimous panel of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals held that a trial judge had erred in placing the burden of showing that loss was caused by covered sinkhole activity on the shoulders of the insured.  In Mejia v. Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 2014 WL 6675717, 2014 Fla. App. LEXIS 19526 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Nov. 26, 2014), the court stated that the policyholder under an all-risk contract of insurance has met his burden by showing that the insured property suffered a loss while the policy was in effect; the burden then shifts to the insurance carrier to prove that the cause of the loss was excluded from coverage. Alfredo Mejia owned a home that was insured by Citizens

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Posted in All Risk, Burden of Proof, Experts, Homeowners Coverage, Sinkhole

Florida Court: Your Own Attorney is Simply Not a “Disinterested” Appraiser

As noted yesterday, last month saw an intermediate level appellate panel in Florida address whether the attorney for the policyholder could serve as that party’s appraiser.  It was a case of first impression in the Sunshine State.  In Florida Ins. Guar. Assn. v. Branco, 2014 WL 4648208, 2014 Fla. App. LEXIS 14602 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Sept. 19, 2014), the panel held that it was impermissible to select one’s own lawyer to act in that capacity when the contract of insurance called for a “disinterested” appraiser. The Brancos’ home was damaged by a sinkhole in April of 2010, and they made claim under a homeowner’s policy issued by Homewise Preferred Insurance Company.  The insurer denied liability, asserting that what had happened did not

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Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Loss Adjustment, Sinkhole

Florida Court Holds “Retained Rights” Provision Does Not Render an Appraisal Clause Unenforceable

In a pair of sinkhole cases, different panels of Florida’s intermediate level appellate court recently compelled appraisal, and the decisions are instructive because they address both challenges to the procedure and also the question of who is qualified to serve as an appraiser.  Today’s post will discuss Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Cannon Ranch Partners, Inc., – So.3rd –, 2014 WL 5286519, 2014 Fla. App. LEXIS 17033 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App., Oct. 17, 2014) where the panel rejected arguments that the appraisal clause was unenforceable because it permitted the carrier to deny the claim even after an appraisal had taken place.  Tomorrow’s post will then address who constitutes a “disinterested” appraiser. The case involved sinkhole damage to a piece of property owned by Cannon

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Posted in Arbitration and Appraisal, Loss Adjustment, Sinkhole

Current Florida Sinkhole Statute Held to Apply Even Though Policy Used Prior Statute’s Formulation

Florida adopted a stringent, five-part definition of what constitutes a covered sinkhole loss in 2011, but many policies continue to employ the 2005 statutory formulation which merely defined “sinkhole loss” as “structural damage to the building, including a foundation, caused by sinkhole activity” and importantly left the term “structural damage” undefined.  The result was that Florida courts split into conflicting camps with respect to how such a contract of insurance should be read; the Middle District for example, held for policyholders in two cases and for the carrier in a third, as reported in a prior post that can found here.  When one of the former decisions recently reached the Eleventh Circuit, the Court of Appeals determined that the language

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Posted in Homeowners Coverage, Sinkhole
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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