State Farm Ins. Co. v. Nichols
No. 5D08-2873, 2009 WL 3674569
(Fla. 5th DCA, Nov. 6, 2009)

In this case, several policyholders brought suit after State Farm refused to pay damages awarded for subsurface sinkhole repairs. The policyholders each received appraisal awards that separately listed the amount of above ground and subsurface damages caused by sinkholes. State Farm promptly paid the amounts designated for above ground damage but withheld the amounts designated for subsurface damage, arguing that Florida Statute 627.707(5)(b) (2007) authorized it to withhold the funds until the homeowners had contracted for the repairs.

The portion of the statute upon which State Farm relied stated:

The insurer may limit its payment to the actual cash value of the sinkhole loss, not including underpinning or grouting or any other repair technique performed below the existing foundation of the building, until the policyholder enters into a contract for the performance of building stabilization or foundation repairs. After the policyholder enters into the contract, the insurer shall pay the amounts necessary to begin and perform such repairs as the work is performed and the expenses are incurred. The insurer may not require the policyholder to advance payment for such repairs.

The insureds argued that that the language in their homeowners’ policies, which required payment within sixty days after the amount of the loss is settled by appraisal, controlled.

Finding that the language of Florida Statute 627.707(5)(b) was permissive and not mandatory, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed with the insureds and held State Farm to the terms of the policy it wrote.

We construe this language as permissive, not mandatory. Because it is permissive, the policy language that requires payment of subsurface repairs within sixty days after the appraisal award is not in conflict with the statute and is binding on the parties to the insurance contract.

You can read the slip opinion here.