(Note: This Guest Blog is by Corey Harris, an attorney with Merlin Law Group in the Tampa, Florida, office. This is part of a series he is writing on post-loss duties).
One of the most daunting tasks in submitting an insurance claim is the production of documents. Most insurance policies have language similar to the following:
The insured, as often as may be reasonably required, shall produce for examination all writing, books of account, bills, invoices and other vouchers or certified copies thereof if originals be lost, at such reasonable time and place as may be designated by the company or its representatives, and shall permit extracts and copies thereof to be made.
Insurers typically request these inspections, and in some cases, spend countless hours sifting through all sorts of documents. This is especially true with condominium associations. In fact, if an association files an insurance claim they should expect such a request.
An insurer has numerous motives for reviewing an association’s documents. Often, the insurer is looking for evidence of pre-existing damages. One large condominium insurer in Florida, for instance, has made a practice of conducting exhaustive document inspections. When a loss is reported, the insurer’s legal team rolls into the condominium association with much the same velocity as the windstorm that caused the damage in the first place. Every document available is copied and combed through line by line. This particular insurer even has its own portable copy machines to make the process more efficient.
Condominium associations are a different animal when it comes to documents. Typical associations have a high turn over rate with employees, managers, and even board members. Many times, one hand does not know what the other is doing, and new managers may completely change the filing system. Thus, keeping track of all of the documents can be a consuming process.
Part of cooperating with an insurer in adjusting the loss involves making requested documentation available for inspection and failing to do so may give an insurer a chance to deny the entire claim. In Florida Gaming Corp. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., for instance, the insurer argued that Florida Gaming Corp. was not entitled to insurance proceeds for damages resulting from Hurricane Wilma because it had allegedly failed to produce some documentation requested. The policyholder responded that it had made available all documentation in its possession and that it had complied with all of its post loss obligations under the policy. Fortunately for the policyholder, the court agreed that the hundreds of pages of documents produced were sufficient, and the insurer’s motion for summary judgment was denied. Florida Gaming Corp. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 502 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1264 (S.D. Fla. 2007).
While the policyholder in this instance was benefited by a favorable ruling, there was a substantial risk to the solvency of the company if the court had found differently. The claim at issue was in excess of $17,000,000, a substantial potential blow to any organization.
While the revolving door is constantly in motion when it comes to condominium association employees, owners, and directors, it is important to have a plan in place to maintain appropriate records. Some associations believe that they have great insurance and will have no problem if they submit a claim, and in some instances, this may be true. But, as we have seen with the results of the active 2004 and 2005 hurricane season, condominium associations are at great risk of large scale damage.
Having a consistent plan in place to maintain and preserve documents over the years will save a great deal of time. After a loss, the documents will be readily accessible and can be sorted through and produced when necessary to support a claim. This can help large claims be paid more quickly and can help an association get back on its feet faster after a devastating loss.