Justia Florida Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Harvey v. Geico General Insurance Co.
In 2006, Harvey, the insured, was involved in an automobile accident with Potts. Potts, age 51, died as a result, leaving a wife and three children. Harvey’s vehicle was registered in both his name and his business’s name and was covered under a $100,000 GEICO liability policy. Two days after the accident, GEICO resolved the liability issue adversely to Harvey. GEICO did not communicate a request by the estate’s attorney for a statement. GEICO tendered $100,000 to the estate’s attorney. The estate returned GEICO’s check and filed a wrongful death suit. A jury awarded the estate $8.47 million. Harvey filed a bad faith claim against GEICO. The estate's lawyer testified that he did not receive any communication from GEICO following his initial letter and that had he known that Harvey’s only other asset was a business account worth approximately $85,000, he would not have filed suit. The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the judgment entered in favor of Harvey, stating that “the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to show ... bad faith,” and, “even if the insurer’s conduct were deficient, the insurer’s actions did not cause the excess judgment.” The Supreme Court of Florida reversed. The Fourth District failed to properly apply the directed verdict standard and misapplied precedent setting forth the fiduciary duties of insurance companies. An insurer can be liable for bad faith even “where the insured’s own actions or inactions . . . at least in part” caused the excess judgment. View "Harvey v. Geico General Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Altman Contractors, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Co.
The notice and repair process set forth in Fla. Stat. 558 is a “suit” within the meaning of the commercial general liability policy issued in this case by Crum & Forster Speciality Insurance Company (C&F) to Altman Contractors, Inc. According to the policy, C&F had a duty to defend Altman in any “suit” arising from the construction of a condominium. Altman claimed that this duty to defend was invoked when the property owner served it with several notices under chapter 558 cumulatively claiming over 800 construction defects in the project. Altman filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that C&F owed a duty to defend and to indemnify it under the policy. The federal district court granted summary judgment for C&F, concluding that nothing about the chapter 558 process satisfied the definition of “civil proceeding.” Altman appealed, and the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified the legal issue to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered the certified question in the affirmative because the chapter 558 presuit process is an “alternative dispute resolution proceeding” as included in the policy’s definition of “suit.” View "Altman Contractors, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida
In 1997, Aaron sustained a catastrophic brain injury at birth due to the negligence of employees at Lee Memorial. The family retained the law firm, under a contingency fee agreement providing for payment of 40 percent of any recovery if a lawsuit was filed, plus costs, and stating that if "one of the parties to pay my claim for damages is a governmental agency, I understand that Federal and Florida Law may limit the amount of attorney fees ... in that event, I understand that the fees owed ... shall be the amount provided by law.” A jury awarded the child $28.3 million, the mother $1.34 million, and the father $1 million. Because the hospital was an independent special district of the state, the court enforced the sovereign immunity damage limitations and entered a judgment for $200,000, which was affirmed. The firm pursued a two-year lobbying effort to secure a claims bill from the Legislature. In 2012 the Legislature passed a claims bill, directing Lee Memorial to pay $10 million, with an additional $5 million to be paid in annual installments to a special needs trust for Aaron, stating that payment of fees and costs from those funds shall not exceed $100,000. No funds were awarded for the parents. The firm petitioned the guardianship court to approve a $2.5 million for attorneys’ fees and costs. The court denied the request. On appeal, the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court of Florida reversed, holding that the fee limitation in the claims bill is unconstitutional and may not stand when such a limitation impairs a preexisting contract. View "Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley. v. Florida" on Justia Law
Kopel v. Kopel
In 1994, Petitioner filed this lawsuit against his brother and nephew (together, Respondents) alleging claims resulting from deteriorating business relationships within the family. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, and mistrial was declared. Petitioner’s subsequent amendments to his complaint culminated in a fifth amended complaint filed in 2009. The jury found in favor of Petitioner on all three counts he alleged. On appeal, the Third District Court of Appeal concluded that Respondents were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the evidence did not support any of Petitioner’s claims. The district court also reversed on the grounds that Petitioenr’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations, as the fifth amended complaint did not relate back to the original. The Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s decision, holding (1) an amendment asserting a new cause of action can relate back to the original pleading where the claim arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence as the original; and (2) there was sufficient evidence to sustain the jury’s verdict on Petitioner’s breach of oral promise claim. Remanded. View "Kopel v. Kopel" on Justia Law
Allstate Insurance Co. v. Orthopedic Specialists
Orthopedic Specialists and various medical service providers challenged reimbursements made by Allstate Insurance Company under personal injury protection no-fault insurance policies issued to Allstate’s insureds, arguing that Allstate’s policy was ambiguous as to whether Allstate had elected to reimburse the Providers in accordance with the Medicare fee schedules provided for in Fla. Stat. 627.736(5)(a)2. The Fourth District held that the policy language was not legally sufficient to authorize Allstate to apply the Medicare fee schedules. The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the Fourth District and approved the decision of the First District in Allstate Fire & Casualty Insurance v. Stand-Up MRI of Tallahassee, P.A., holding that Allstate’s insurance policy provides legally sufficient notice of Allstate’s election to use the permissive Medicare fee schedules identified in section 627.736(5)(a)2 to limit reimbursements. View "Allstate Insurance Co. v. Orthopedic Specialists" on Justia Law
Sebo v. American Home Assurance Co.
In 2005, John Sebo purchased a home. American Home Assurance Company (AHAC) provided homeowners insurance as of the date of the purchase. It later became clear that the house suffered from major design and construction defects when water began to intrude during rainstorms. Hurricane Wilma further damaged the residence. AHAC denied coverage for most of the claimed losses. Sebo sued AHAC seeking a declaration that the policy provided coverage for his damages. The jury found in favor of Sebo, and the trial court entered judgment against AHAC. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial, concluding that coverage did not exist under Sebo’s all-risk policy when multiple perils combined to create a loss and at least one of the perils was excluded by the terms of the policy. The Supreme Court quashed the Second District’s opinion, holding that the plain language of the policy did not preclude recovery in this case. View "Sebo v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law
de la Fuente v. Florida Insurance Guaranty Ass’n
Insureds, who owned a policy from Insurer, alleged that Insurer failed to pay them for damage to their home from sinkhole loss, thus breaching the terms of the insurance policy. When Insurer became insolvent, Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA) was activated to handle the “covered claims.” The circuit court ordered appraisal, and the appraisers determined the amount of loss to be $130,600. FIGA objected to the confirmation of the appraisal award, arguing that the statutory definition of “covered claim” in effect when Insurer was adjudicated insolvent should govern any payments made on the claim, thus prohibiting any direct payment to Insureds for their sinkhole loss. The circuit court confirmed the appraisal award and entered judgment in favor of Insureds in the amount of $130,600, concluding that Insureds’ rights to recover against FIGA for sinkhole loss were established when Insurer issued the insurance policy. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the definition of “covered claim” in effect on the date that Insurer was adjudicated to be insolvent governed the scope of FIGA’s liability to Insureds for the sinkhole loss at their property; and (2) Insureds were precluded from obtaining an appraisal award for their sinkhole loss directly from FIGA under the terms of the policy. View "de la Fuente v. Florida Insurance Guaranty Ass’n" on Justia Law
Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC
When Hampton Court Nursing Father admitted Father to its nursing home facility, Son and Hampton Court signed a a nursing home contract that included an arbitration clause. Father did not sign the contract. Son later filed suit on Father’s behalf, alleging negligence and statutory violations. The circuit court granted Hampton Court’s motion to compel arbitration and stay the judicial proceedings. The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that Father was the intended third-party beneficiary of the nursing home contract, and therefore, Hampton Court could bind him to its contract, which Father never signed. The Supreme Court quashed the Third District’s decision, holding that the third-party beneficiary doctrine did not bind Father to the arbitration agreement in the nursing home admission agreement. View "Mendez v. Hampton Court Nursing Center, LLC" on Justia Law
Fla. Dep’t of Transp. v. Schwefringhaus
CSX Transportation requested indemnification from the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) for the amount paid to resolve a negligence action arising from an accident at a railroad crossing. CSX based its request on a railroad crossing agreement under which the DOT received a revocable license to use land as a right-of-way. The sole consideration for the license was an agreement to indemnify the railroad for losses arising out of DOT’s activity on the land. The trial court required DOT to indemnify CSX for the settlement of the lawsuit and for the expenses arising from DOT’s failure to defend the suit. DOT appealed, arguing that the indemnity clause was invalid. The Second District Court of Appeal concluded that the indemnity clause was enforceable. The Second District then certified two questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered (1) DOT is bound by the indemnity provision as party of the statutorily authorized railroad crossing agreement, and breach-of-contract principles prohibit DOT from using sovereign immunity to avoid suit for its breach of the crossing agreement; and (2) DOT’s liability under the crossing agreement is not limited by Fla. Stat. 768.28(5). View "Fla. Dep’t of Transp. v. Schwefringhaus" on Justia Law
Browning v. Poirier
In 1993, Petitioner and Respondent, who were in a romantic relationship, entered into an oral agreement in which they agreed to purchase lottery tickets and to share equally in the proceeds of any winning lottery tickets. In 2007, Respondent purchased a winning lottery ticket and collected one million dollars. When Respondent refused to share half the proceeds with Petitioner, Petitioner filed suit for breach of an oral contract and unjust enrichment. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Respondent. The Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding (1) the breach of the alleged oral contract cause of action was barred by the statute of frauds; and (2) the district court erred in entering judgment for Respondent regarding the count for unjust enrichment. The Supreme Court quashed the Court of Appeal’s decision, holding that Petitioner’s oral agreement with Respondent to share equally in the proceeds of any winning lottery tickets they purchased fell outside the statute of frauds. View "Browning v. Poirier" on Justia Law
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