Nicole Vinson has just joined Merlin Law Group. Nicole’s first party insurance advocacy began in Jacksonville, and now she will be handling claims throughout Florida from our Tampa office.
Nicole and her husband, Joe, are relocating to Tampa from St. Augustine. The couple is originally from a small town in Michigan and moved to Florida when Nicole received a scholarship to Florida Coastal School of Law. Nicole’s husband works in sales at a boat brokerage in North Florida. They are excited to move to Tampa, where they will be closer to Nicole’s father and brother who live on Anna Maria Island.
When I asked Nicole about her future and her goals, she told me her dream was always to be a lawyer and help people. One of the great aspects of our work is helping people with pretty serious problems. The more difficult aspect is that our business is driven by results. If we don’t win for the clients, we don’t get paid.
So, I asked Nicole why she thought she would be successful. Nicole shared with me details of a few of her cases and why she thought she was successful. I started laughing when she told me a very important step most attorneys fail to do– she followed through and returned calls and emails.
She also shared the following in an email to me:
I helped a client who suffered damage to her beautiful rental property. The duct work and other elements of the home were destroyed and the culprit was a family of armadillos. After being raised in the North, I had no idea of the pesky nature of armadillos, nor had I ever even seen a ‘real live’ armadillo. The insurance company denied the claim based upon the bird, vermin, rodent exclusion. The insurance policy’s definition section did not define vermin or rodents. After some very clear pictures of armadillos in traps at the property, it was clear armadillos were the "the cause of loss." Next, I had to convince the insurance company that an armadillo was not a rodent nor a vermin. In the mediation of this case, I felt like a zoologist. I had pictures of rodents with definitions, pictures of vermin with definitions, and then I explained that the cute and sweet armadillo is neither. Or at least not an excluded pest. It was interesting to learn that the definition of vermin includes a pesky or obnoxious person. I wonder which insurance company will try this exclusion to withhold claim payment when the client causes accidental damage to the home and the carrier views the client as pesky.
Nicole went on to tell me about a more difficult case:
I also represented this couple in connection with a theft claim. The insurance company had it out for these insureds from day one. The loss happened at night while the mother was home and asleep. She had one giant dog and one small, noisy dog in the bedroom with her. Yet, the dogs never barked. Her husband was away on leave with the Navy but her young son was in the home. The insurance company set this claim up as a fraud claim the minute they learned jewelry was included in the claim. This was questionable because the areas where the missing items were taken included the kitchen, garage and living room only. The contents items stolen included car keys, computers, video games, wedding bands, watch sets, cell phones, just to name a few. This claim had red flags popping up all over. I think a lawyer who would have rushed through a client consult with the family might have turned them away. I spent hours with the clients, going over statements (many of which included inconsistencies), reading emails between the couple, reviewing their documents, and I felt in my heart that the claim was legitimate. The case had problems, no real signs of forced entry, strange movements and activities of the insureds right before the loss, and a motive of financial difficulties.
Opposing counsel was ready to take my clients down. Defense counsel was so convinced the claim was fraudulent, I am sure he told his the insurer not to worry about settlement. Well, the long hours of meeting with the clients (separately and together) and going through the entire claim (line by line) paid off. After nearly two full days of client testimony, the carrier came to the table and paid– paid handsomely. I think the defense lawyer and the insurance company realized Mr. and Mrs. Insured experienced a covered loss, but that it happened to them under some terrible circumstances.
Instead of viewing the loss as suspicious, I think the clients were able to convince the carrier the facts of the loss were just a horrible set of circumstances.
I think the clients got a favorable result because they were open and honest with me and, as their lawyer, I was able to extract essential but sometimes minor details about the family. I then used this information to show the defense team how a jury would see a mother more concerned about her child and his favorite video than the loss of large ticket items. This family may have been struggling, but they did not commit fraud; they were the victims.
Talking more about her practice, Nicole continued to share with me some insight on why details matter:
I have to admit I enjoy sinkhole files. I find the geology of Florida interesting when most find it dull. Also, I feel I have been able to help my sinkhole clients and litigate their claims better because of my time in the clients’ homes. I have visited many sinkhole-damaged properties and I think I advocate better for these clients because I get a glimpse into their life in the damaged home. I view the damage and learn about how the ever increasing damages impact the daily lives of the clients. I don’t think the insurance company considers what a giant crack in the floor does to a family with a nine month old baby, who is crawling around and trying to walk. I don’t think the insurance company considers the struggles of a family who can only use half of their kitchen because the cabinets won’t open or won’t close, and they are sick of being hit in the head by the cereal boxes and Tupperware. The insurance companies might not consider this, but the jury will. These factual circumstances are also sometimes issues the clients fail to mention in a conversation and it takes seeing the claim and the family to be able to use this information to be persuasive and strong in the litigation and in settlement negotiations.
Nicole is available and ready to meet you and answer your questions. Please feel free to contact her at the office in Tampa, 813-229-1000 or directly on her cell, 813-415-8758. Please also feel free to email Nicole, NVinson@MerlinLawGroup.com.