As civil litigators, we know firsthand the complexities of the legal landscape in Florida. From the procedural technicalities to the common law, our experience and knowledge of the lawsuit process is unmatched within the Ft. Lauderdale area. And it doesn’t stop there, as our dedication to seeing a case through to the final appeal is one of the many components to our full-scope representation.
The appeals process in Florida can take time – just ask the litigants in the recently-concluded matter between Perdido Sun Condominium Association and Citizens Property Insurance. The case, which arose in Escambia County, stemmed from property damage claims occurring as a result of Hurricane Ivan which slammed the Florida panhandle over 11 years ago.
After winding its way through the trial level and First Circuit Court of Appeals, Citizens opted to exercise its final state-level appellate option: the Florida Supreme Court. In sum, the company believed it had not mishandled the thousands of claims caused by the storm and strenuously objected to the imposition of a ‘bad faith’ finding by the lower courts. In the end, the Supreme Court agreed and Citizens was able to avoid some of the exceptional civil penalties that accompany a finding of bad faith.
Details of the Property Insurance Appeal
Eleven years earlier, several homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the impact of Hurricane Ivan. Inevitably, a flood of claims also hit insurers in the area, creating a risk management nightmare. According to the plaintiffs in this case – which included a number of homeowners within a sub-divided community – the insurer committed an egregious breach of contract by refusing to pay several of its claims and subsequently sued the insurer under both contract and statutory insurance law.
Within Florida’s insurance regulation codes are certain immunities from liability, as well as a mandate to settle all claims in good faith. While ‘breach of contract’ is not listed as a cause of action from which an insurer is immune, ‘bad faith’ is not considered an actionable claim against an insurer, as it is not expressly codified in the insurance regulations.
On the trial level, the community association was awarded $5.6 million – which included a ‘bad faith’ element presumably in response to evidence that Citizens may have acted improperly when handling claims. On appeal, the First Circuit upheld the ruling, holding that Citizens was required to pay the entire $5.6 million judgment.
Finally, the Florida Supreme Court took hold of the issue and overruled the lower courts’ rulings. In sum, the Court found that – absent clear, express statutory language to the contrary – Citizens is not subject to claims of bad faith and is presumed immune from financial punishment under this theory.
In the words of the Court, “[a]lthough the Legislature codified Citizens’ duty to handle claims in good faith … the Legislature never listed statutory first-party bad faith claims as one of the exceptions to Citizens’ immunity.”
Let Experienced Ft. Lauderdale Appellate Attorneys Help
If you are considering an appeal, don’t delay. The window of time to file an appeal post-judgment is typically just 30 or 60 days. To get started, contact Feinstein Law in Ft. Lauderdale by calling (954) 767-9662.