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On May 20, 2020, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals issued a written opinion affirming that a homeowner’s claimed loss was specifically excluded under the insurance policy. In Deshazior v. SafePoint, the insurance company produced evidence that the damage from a plumbing loss fell within an exclusion based on constant and repeated seepage or leakage of water. The burden to disprove that exclusion then shifted to the homeowner, who relied upon an expert whose written affidavit and deposition testimony amounted to sworn testimony that directly contradicted each other. As a result, the homeowner was unable to introduce any evidence to meet its burden to show that the damage was NOT caused by an excluded event.

In Deshazior, the homeowner sued the insurance company for breach of contract, alleging that sudden water discharge in a bathroom caused damages that are covered under the policy. The insurance company denied the insureds’ allegations and raised several affirmative defenses. In pertinent part, the insurance company alleged the policy’s “constant and repeated seepage or leakage” exclusion provision barred the claim. The insurance company moved for summary judgment. At the summary judgment hearing, the homeowners argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the damage was caused by a sudden, accidental water discharge event, or if the damage was from a long-term leak and the policy exclusion applied. After considering the record, arguments of counsel, and evidence submitted, the trial court entered final summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals recently affirmed that judgment. The entire written opinion can be found here: https://www.3dca.flcourts.org/content/download/635934/7224990/file/182414_DC05_05202020_103818_i.pdf

It may surprise some that the Property People’s Nicole Houman drafted the brief that resulted in this appellate ruling. While the Property People are committed to advocating for the contractual rights of residential and commercial property owners, they once represented many of Florida’s largest property insurers. Our attorneys handled numerous appellate matters on behalf of the insurance companies. Specifically, Nicole wrote briefs analyzing the distinct nuances of certain policy exclusions, reliance upon expert testimonies regarding causes of loss, court order compliance, and other issues which bore on a policyholder’s right to coverage.

The result of Nicole’s experience preparing appellate briefs on behalf of insurers is a critical understanding of where plaintiff’s lawyers frequently do wrong, for their own clients and their own reputation in an industry where ethic must be paramount. In the recent Deshazior opinion, the homeowner’s lawyers relied upon an expert who contradicted and disavowed prior sworn testimony with contradictory affidavit testimony. The Property People know not to rely on non-credible opinions. While representing insurance companies, Nicole also affirmed trial court opinions where cases were dismissed for lawyers’ ongoing failures to comply with trial orders and discovery deadlines. As a result, the Property People know that maintaining dignity in a courtroom and complying with the judge’s orders are critical to protecting clients’ rights. In another appeal, Nicole argued to affirm the trial court’s ruling dismissing an insured’s case for fraud. There, the insured’s lawyers crafted a false and fraudulent affidavit, which put elaborate technical statements regarding the cause of loss in the mouth of an elderly woman who was not qualified to make those statements. Due to the unethical conduct of those lawyers, a valid claim on behalf of an elderly woman was stricken for fraud. Since then, the Property People have avowed themselves to putting the client first at any and every cost, as no lie is worth stampeding a client’s rights under the policy.

If you seek an accurate analysis of the insurance company’s reasons for denying or underpaying your claim, the Property People have the experience to advise you. Through a free consultation, and representation in litigation that comes at absolutely no out-of-pocket cost to you, the policyholder, the Property People will fight ruthlessly for the rights that your policy affords.

 

 

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