Another Florida Circuit Court has ruled that the neutral evaluation section of the Florida Sinkhole Statute is unconstitutional. Similar to the Order noted in Sinkhole Neutral Evaluation Unconstitutional, Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge James Arnold’s Opinion found:
Plaintiffs’ objection that the original version of Fla. Stat. 627.7074 (enacted in 2006) is unconstitutional is GRANTED for the following reasons:
a) The Court finds that the statute is unconstitutional because it permits the Florida Department of Financial Services, an agency of the Executive Branch, to select and determine who will serve as a Neutral Evaluator for claims in litigation regardless of whether the Neutral Evaluator is qualified to render an opinion on the issues presented as part of the neutral evaluation.
b) Further, the Neutral Evaluator’s opinions and written recommendations shall be admissible at a later civil trial as to insurance coverage issues without first permitting the Court to determine whether the designated Neutral Evaluator is qualified to render such opinions under Section 90.702 of the Florida Evidence Code or that the report and opinions are admissible in the first instance.
This reasoning is very similar to Pasco County Circuit Court Judge Judge Stanley Mills’ ruling last week which concluded:
Permitting a Neutral Evaluator to give an opinion which is admissible in court without any formal evidentiary rules or procedures, particularly with no right to cross-examination, constitutes a violation of the Plaintiffs’ due process, under Article I, section 9 of the Florida Constitution.
These rulings demonstrate a trend in sinkhole insurance litigation. The legal reasoning is sound.
In recognition of these two Orders hot off the press and the hot summertime weather, how about this song to start your Fourth of July weekend: