Barry Zalma writes some interesting and worthwhile property insurance coverage articles. While most of his work centers on insurance fraud, his recent article, "When is An Appraiser Disinterested?" has implications for consideration in Florida as well.

Zalma noted that when considering the qualifications of an appraiser, California courts have adopted the arbitration code for guidance:

California courts have concluded this adjudication must be conducted pursuant to the provisions of the California Arbitration Act, Code of Civil Procedure section 1280 et seq. (Arbitration Act).

Section 1281.9 of the Arbitration Act requires proposed neutral arbitrators to disclose to opposing parties the existence of any potential grounds for disqualification. If a party objects to the proposed neutral arbitrator, section 1281.91 requires the objecting party to serve a notice of disqualification within 15 days of receipt of the disclosure statement.

The key to disqualifying a party appointed appraiser is whether there is a "substantial" business relationship between the party appointed appraiser and a party to the appraisal, their counsel, or the umpire. Impartial arbitrators/appraisers must disclose to the parties any dealings that might "create an impression of possible bias." The test is whether a reasonable member of the public at large, aware of all of the facts, would fairly entertain doubts concerning the arbitrators/appraisers impartiality, the arbitrator/appraiser is not subject to disqualification.

This discussion is quite relevant to the ongoing debate about appraisal in Florida. One of the insurers’ contentions is that many policyholder appraisers are biased and interested. Insurers argue that appraisers who are compensated on a contingency fee system inherently try to raise the amount of awards because they have an incentive to do so.

A Florida case, Rios v. Tri-State Ins. Co., 714 So. 2d 547 (Fla. 3d DCA 1998), allows appraisers to work on a contingency basis, so long as it is disclosed to the panel. This is prohibited in Texas appraisals.

It will be interesting to see how all this resolves.