In 2010 we were hired by the owner of a Homestead, Florida lumber yard and hardware business with unresolved insurance claims lawsuits originating from damage caused by a tornado and hurricane that occurred in January 2, 2002 and October 15, 1999.
Our client had two prior lawyers represent him, at different times, previous to us. He also had a number of consultants and public adjusters involved in these claims. Because his claims dated back numerous years, his claims required rebuilding. Many documents, including certain court filings, were no where to be found. And the client did not have a full, cogent copy of his cases, claims, or of documents supporting his claims and/or damages. His former attorneys provided us with just a partial file.
To boot, our client had a history of pre-exisiting insurance claims at his business. The same insurance company adjuster that adjusted the prior claims was assigned by the insurance company to the 1999 and 2002 claims. This adjuster completed detailed reports with photos after each of these prior losses. These reports were quite damaging to the claims we were retained on because they evidenced that repairs to the lumber yard were not completed after payment on the prior losses. The photos taken during the prior losses evidenced damage seemingly exact to the photos taken after the losses we were retained on.
As a result, the insurance company took the position that our policyholder was committing insurance fraud. This position was bolstered by the policyholder’s own public adjuster. Days after the tornado caused damage to our client's business, the public adjuster and the insurance company’s field adjuster visited the lumber yard to examine the damages. The insurance company’s adjuster brought photos that he took in 1998 of the damage claimed by the policyholder in a prior loss and showed the photos to the public adjuster. While they both examined these photos, they were both also viewing the premises. After this, the public adjuster agreed that the damages seemed almost exactly how they appeared in 1998. The public adjuster then withdrew from representing the policyholder and later testified in deposition that he concluded that the claim was fraudulent. There was sparce evidence that the damages from these previous losses had been repaired.
In spite of the above we succeeded in getting the case settled after two mediations for $302,500. This case could have been resolved much sooner had the policyholder and his representatives preserved vital evidence. It is critical to preserve evidence at every stage of the claims process and to document all dealings with insurance companies. Of course, securing competent representation immediately is is equally important.