If you thought the notion of taking a “time-out” only applied to sports, think again. In Florida, properly invoking neutral evaluation under Florida Statute § 627.7074 is similar to requesting a time-out because it stays, or pauses, sinkhole-related proceedings. Though the nonbinding, informal procedure is intended to help parties resolve disputed sinkhole insurance claims, unless an agreement is actually reached, the neutral evaluation process will merely lead to additional delays – many times, for several months.
Last week, I highlighted a recent trial court order in Shelton v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company,1 where a federal trial judge ruled the plain meaning of the term “structural damage” is applied to a sinkhole claim, despite the May 17, 2011 amendments, unless the policy defines the term differently. This holding is a true victory for policyholders; but it raises another issue that needs to be rectified.
The United States and Florida Constitutions give everybody the rights to due process under law and a jury trial. These fundamental rights were important to the founders of this country. Yet, some Florida legislators fail to respect and observe these rights when it comes to making special laws which protect the insurance companies who fill their campaign coffers.
On Tuesday, July 27, 2010, The SunCoast News ran an article by Carl Orth titled: “Fasano Aide Brings Ideas Back from Sinkhole Conference.” According to the article, issues regarding public adjusters, sinkhole losses, fraud, the rise in sinkhole claims in the downturned economy, and the value of Florida’s Neutral Evaluation program were discussed at the conference.
(Note: this Guest Blog is part of a series on sinkhole issues).
Have any of you been involved in a neutral evaluation where the neutral evaluator appointed by the Department of Financial Services is an engineer or geologist that you have worked against many times? This begs the question – how “neutral” is neutral evaluation? Depending on the situation, you can wind up with a not-so-neutral evaluator or, worse yet, an evaluator who you have an adversarial relationship with from past claims. I have a few tips that can help you get more information about whether your prospective or appointed neutral evaluator is “neutral.”
Two weeks ago I wrote on the three ring circus that Florida’s statutory neutral evaluation of sinkhole claims has become. Fla. Stat. 627.7074. This follow up blog focuses on the “down and dirty” reasons why the process is unfair to policyholders….…
There is nothing that irks a trial lawyer more than when the legislature monkeys with the Rules of Evidence and due process. The “neutral” evaluation scheme incorporated into Florida’s sinkhole statute, §627.7074, does just that….…