After two recent trials in federal court in South Florida, two different juries found different results in allegedly late filed hurricane insurance claims. Most property insurance policies require that the policyholder notify the insurance company of loss or damage with some degree of expediency, however most policies do not specify when notice will be late enough to deny the claim. Under current Florida law, late notice will only bar an insurance claim if it prejudices the insurance company. If the notice is determined to be late, the insurance company is entitled to a presumption of prejudice that may be rebutted by the policyholder. See Bankers Ins. Co. v. Macias, 475 So. 2d 1216 (Fla. 1985).
In Ocean View Towers Association, Inc. v. QBE Insurance Corporation, 11-60447-CIV (S.D. Fla.), although the judge had previously denied the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment on the alleged late notice, the jury went the opposite direction and found that the insurance company did not breach the insurance policy by failing to pay for later discovered damage. An analysis of the judge’s denial of summary judgment can be found on this blog here, and the jury’s verdict form can be found here.
In Banta Properties, Inc. v. Arch Specialty Insurance Company, 10–61485–CIV (S.D. Fla.), the judge also denied the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment on the alleged late notice, but this time the jury followed and found that the insurance company breached the insurance policy by failing to properly pay for Hurricane Wilma damage. As outlined in the jury’s verdict form, the jury found that the policyholder did not provide prompt notice of the loss as required by the policy, but the policyholder overcame the presumed prejudice from late notice. In denying the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment, the court identified two possible ways that the policyholder can overcome prejudice from a late filed claim: (1) by providing a complete investigation from another insurance company, or (2) by providing “substantial information” regarding the claim to the insurance company. A more thorough analysis of rebutting prejudice from a late-filed claim can be found on this blog here. In the case of Banta Properties, the policyholder was able to overcome the prejudice from their late notice and was awarded $4 Million by the jury.
While these cases had a common question of law, the facts of each case allowed the juries to find differently under their specific circumstances. The results after these two trials demonstrate how fact specific the analysis of late notice is, and shows why courts should not treat all alleged late notice cases the same.