The final answer to these questions was teed up before the Florida Supreme Court. After briefs and oral argument, this is what the judges said on Monday:
We initially accepted jurisdiction to review State Farm Fla. Ins. Co. v. Sanders, 45 Fla. L. Weekly D870 (Fla. 3d DCA Apr. 15, 2020) given certified conflict with decisions of other district courts of appeal and a certified question of great public importance. See art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const. Having considered the Third District’s decision and the parties’ arguments, upon further review, we have decided to discharge jurisdiction.1
Really? The judges punted on this issue because they found they lacked jurisdiction. It means the lower appellate court case ruling allowing the contingent fee is still prevailing.
Law 360 stated this about the case:
In oral arguments held Sept. 2, State Farm argued that because of the financial stake in the outcome of the appraisal, the appraiser was clearly not disinterested as required by the contract between State Farm and the insured couple, Charles and Diana Sanders.
But the couple argued that under the process laid out in the insurance policy, their appraiser would be hired to act as their advocate of sorts, and State Farm would hire its own appraiser and advocate. The two sides are then required to hire or appoint a third, neutral appraiser, they argued.
The Sanderses sued State Farm for breach of contract in August 2018, claiming it had failed to cover property damage losses caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. State Farm responded with a motion to invoke appraisal, claiming there was a presuit dispute regarding the insureds’ selected appraiser.
The appraisal condition in the policy states that “each party will select a qualified disinterested appraiser,” according to court documents.
State Farm objected to the Sanderses’ selection of Gian Franco Debernardi of 911 Claims Corp. because the contract between him and the insureds assigned 10% of the amount recovered to 911 Claims, according to court documents.
In April 2019, the trial court entered an order permitting Debernardi to act as the couple’s appraiser. After accepting State Farm’s petition for writ of certiorari appealing this order, the Third District quashed the trial court’s order in July 2019 but then reversed course after rehearing the case. The appeals court said it could not grant certiorari relief because it was bound by previous Third District case law holding that a direct or indirect financial or personal interest in the outcome of an appraisal does not require the disqualification of an appraiser selected by one of the parties.
We will have to wait for the outcome of this issue to be played out in another case.
Thought For The Day
It ain’t over till it’s over.
1 State Farm Fla. Ins. Co. v. Sanders, No. SC20-596 (Fla. Oct.18, 2021).