How much time does a Florida homeowner have to file a lawsuit against an insurer? As with many legal questions, the answer is, "It depends." A recent Florida law shortens the deadline, but the law may not apply to some older claims.
According to a decision by Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeals, a homeowner can still move forward with her breach of contract suit against her insurer over a 2005 claim for hurricane damage.
When Hurricane Wilma damaged Arlene Donovan's home in 2005, she filed a claim with her insurer, Florida Peninsula. An umpire approved an award, but it turned out that the materials needed to repair her roof were no longer manufactured. Donovan asked Florida Peninsula to pay for alternative roofing repairs that would meet the building code.
In January 2010 they refused, and she sued in July 2011, roughly six years after she had filed her claim. Florida Peninsula claimed that her suit was time-barred by Florida's statute of limitations and late notice.
Under Florida law in 2005, a homeowner had up to five years to file a claim for loss. The statute of limitations was measured from when the insurance claim was allegedly denied in error. In 2011, the Florida legislature amended the law to require that homeowners file a lawsuit related to an insurance claim within five years of the "date of loss." Under this new statute of limitations, Donovan's suit, brought more than five years after the loss, would be time-barred.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that the new law did not apply retroactively to Donovan's claim. Her deadline was still five years from the breach of contract, not from the date of loss. It found no express, clear intent by the state legislature to make the new law retroactive. It also refused to hold that Donovan had violated any "notice of loss provision" in her insurance contract, since it had seen no evidence showing that the contract contained such a provision, or that she had violated it.
Getting a property insurance company to meet its obligations is a process that can sometimes take years or, in this case, nearly a decade. The new statute gives homeowners less time to file a lawsuit and makes it essential that they contact counsel as soon as possible to assess their status and meet the deadline.
Pekar Law is a property insurance law firm in Tampa, Florida. If you have a property insurance matter, please call us at (813) 712-8762 for a free consultation.