Pending Police Attempt to Recover Stolen Property Does Not Excuse Late Notice of Loss

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

When you are a homeowner who suffers a property loss related to theft or vandalism, the consequences can be significant financial hardships compounded by the emotional distress associated with losing irreplaceable heirlooms.  Theft losses from burglary of your home frequently will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy, but insurance carriers often use a litany of excuses to justify denying such claims.  The police will conduct an investigation and might recover your property, which can create confusion about your actual date of loss.  This is an important issue because all homeowner’s insurance policies contain a notice of loss provision.  The date of loss triggers the duty to provide notice for purposes of determining whether the policyholder has fulfilled this obligation in a timely manner.

A recent decision by a federal court in New York illustrates the risk of waiting to provide notice while the police investigate the burglary of your home.  Although Minasian v. IDS Prop. Cas. Ins. Co. and Farm Fire and Cas. Co. involved a claim under a renter’s policy, the provision mandating timely notice of loss was comparable to a homeowner’s policy.  The insured reported a property loss following the theft of jewelry and cash from an apartment unit, which amounted to a value of nearly $200,000.  The insured contacted the police and reported the burglary within fifteen minutes of discovering the crime.  However, the policyholder waited 86 days to notify the insurance company because the police continued their investigation of the theft.  The insurance carriers denied the claim based on late notice, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurers.

The insured raised a number of defenses related to the police investigation regarding delays in fulfilling the provision mandating prompt notice of loss. The policyholders indicated that they did not notify the insurer until the insured had the subjective belief that the police investigation would not result in recovery of the stolen property.  The court noticed that prior court decisions had “routinely” rejected the notion of such a subjective belief as a trigger for the notice of loss requirement.  The court observed that the insured was aware of the date the property was stolen by burglars as evidenced by their immediate notification of the police.  Since the insured also was aware that the insurance policy covered theft, the court found the subjective belief was irrelevant to the condition of prompt notice of loss from the insured.

An important lesson to be taken from this court decision is that policyholders should provide notice to their insurer as soon as possible following discovery of their property loss.  The possibility that the property might be recovered following a theft investigation or that the insured might receive reimbursement from another source should not delay notice.  Although subsequent recovery of stolen property or compensation from a collateral source might be relevant to offset claims, the possibility of such a development does not provide an excuse for late notice of loss.

If your insurance carrier is refusing to comply with its contractual obligation, you are invited to contact our law firm to speak to an experienced Miami insurance claims attorney.  My law firm specializes in representing policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida. Click here to read about some of our case results.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations. No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees. Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM. 

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