There is no denying the fact that sinkholes regularly occur throughout the Sunshine State. However, as we have previously reported on this blog, over reporting of sinkhole damage to property insurers has grown to be an increasing problem, resulting in stricter policies and procedures for many Florida residents.
In October of this year, the Florida Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in a case involving an unfortunately insolvent property insurer that was unable to payout multiple sinkhole claims. In a case captioned as de la Fuente v. Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, two homeowners faced an uphill battle with their insurer, HomeWise Preferred Insurance Company, after an expanding sinkhole eventually led to a property damage claim in 2010. After hiring engineers to inspect the alleged damage, the company denied the claim outright, leading to litigation.
The language of the policy read that “[t]he policy included coverage for ‘sinkhole loss,’ the determination of which requires the presence of structural damage to the home resulting from ‘sinkhole activity….” After a second go-round with inspectors, the damage was concluded to be cosmetic only, and not structural. After a trial on the matter, the Leon County trial court found in favor of the homeowners, and awarded $130,000 in damages. Problem was, at the time of the judgment, the insurer was unable to make the payment due to its insolvency.
Fortunately – or so they thought – the homeowners were able to turn to a state-created system known as the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which offers homeowners at least partial payment when a claim is made against in solvent insurer. However, the FIGA regulations were changed in 2011 to the detriment of the homeowners, and the association argued that the newer, more restrictive laws should apply to preclude a payout. Conversely, the homeowners argued that the laws in effect when the policy was signed (2010) should control.
In the end, the newer, stricter laws were held to apply. Instead of the $130,000 lump sum awarded by the trial court following the homeowners’ breach of contract claim, the homeowners were limited to the costs to actually repair the damage, and nothing more.
Contact a property insurance attorney today!
If you are having difficulty with a property damage claim in Florida, please contact Pekar Law right away! You can reach our office at 813-712-8762.