This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the Florida Association of Public Adjusters (“FAPIA”) conference in Ft. Myers, Florida. FAPIA President, Jimmy Farach did a wonderful job spearheading the event, along with the help of Nancy Dominguez and many others. They also did a great job selecting the venue; the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort and Spa was lovely and I had a great experience with their management and staff.
They gave their audience an excellent overview of recent case law throughout Florida, both favorable to insureds and insurance carriers.
They also discussed another case I thought was worth highlighting, particularly since it was handled by Truppman’s office: Siegel v. Tower Hill Signature Insurance Company.3
The insureds suffered two adverse summary judgment rulings against them:
- That Tower Hill had complied with its policy obligations by paying its independent adjuster’s estimate, and
- that the Seigels’ failure to have allowed a plumbing inspection by Tower Hill prior to filing suit meant they’d failed to comply with a condition precedent under the policy before filing suit.
Prior to the loss, the Siegels had procured a replacement cost insurance policy with Tower Hill. On May 15, 2015, a drain line collapsed under the Siegels’ home. The Siegels notified Tower within less than a month, and on June 19, 2015, Tower Hill had the property inspected by an independent adjuster. The Seigels hired a public adjuster to assist them with their claim who prepared an estimate for $30,716.23 ($33,216.23 minus the $2,500 deductible). On August 12, 2015, the Siegels gave that estimate to Tower Hill. A few days later, Tower Hill responded, informing the Siegels that, based on the information they had, the amount of their claim settlement was $4,304.75, which represented the $6,804.75 independent adjuster estimate, less the $2,500 deductible. In the letter, Tower Hill advised their insureds it was not necessarily the full and final settlement of the claim, and that they could later supplement. Based on the stark differences in the estimates, and what was a clear dispute, the Siegels filed suit for breach of contract on August 28, 2015.
After the suit was filed but before Tower Hill was served, the insurer sent the Siegels correspondence that a plumber wanted to come out and inspect, but that he had been unable to gain access; the Seigels were also advised by Tower Hill that their Proof of Loss was being rejected, but that Tower Hill was continuing its investigation.
Tower Hill was then served with the lawsuit on September 10, 2015.
On February of 2016, Tower Hill moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it had complied with the policy, statutes, and law. In support they filed the affidavit of their corporate representative, their independent adjuster’s estimate, and correspondence they had sent the Siegels regarding payment. Tower Hill filed a second motion for summary judgment that same month contending that that the Siegels had breached by their failure to allow the plumber to come out prior to filing suit.
The lower court granted Tower Hill’s Summary Judgment Motions and the Seigels appealed.
The Third District Court of appeals reversed finding that there was a genuine issue of material fact:
- Whether the insurer complied with Florida law and terms of insurance policy with respect to initial payment to the insureds precluded summary judgment, and
- whether the insureds complied with the contractual obligation to allow re-inspection of damaged property.
Tower hill argued on appeal that Slayton v. Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Company4 controlled this case. In Slayton, the Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld summary judgment in favor of Universal where they paid according to their independent adjuster’s estimate, but offered to supplement and Slayton had a competing estimate. Tower Hill pointed out that both the Slayton and Siegel policies had the same loss settlement provision.
The Third DCA distinguished Slayton, finding there must be an analysis of Fla. Stat. 627.7011 which sets a minimum amount for initial payments under a replacement cost policy, to “at least the ACV less the deductible.” This language was also reflected in the Siegel policy.
The Slayton court did not address 627.7011 because the insured had not preserved that argument before the trial court.
Congratulations to Mintz Truppman, P.A., for the favorable decision to policyholders and a big thanks to Keith Truppman and Heather Cassel for a great presentation.
1 Court Reaffirms on Contingency Fee Multipliers in Joyce v. Federated National.
2 Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment Where Battle of Experts Created a Jury Question.
3 Siegel v. Tower Hill Signature Ins. Co., 225 So. 3d 974 (Fla. 3d DCA 2017).
4 Slayton v. Universal Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 103 So.3d 934 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012).