5th Circuit Court of Appeals for Florida Addresses Important Appraisal Issues

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

The appraisal process provides a valuable alternate dispute resolution mechanism when disagreements arise between homeowners and their insurance company over the value of a loss.  Although the process cannot be employed to determine whether coverage exist, appraisal is appropriate to resolve disputes over the scope, nature and cost of repairs.  The appraisal process can be complicated because it is impacted by a wide range of rules.  Further, there may be situations where either the insurance carrier or policyholder wish to proceed to litigation as opposed to submitting the dispute to appraisal.

A recent case, Florida Insurance Guaranty Association v. Hanse, decided by the 5th District Court of Appeals addressed a number of issues regarding appraisal that can significantly impact policyholders.  The homeowners pursued a claim for sinkhole damage against FIGA.  The policyholders moved to compel appraisal under the policy, but the insurer objected to appraisal.

The insurance carrier contended that the homeowners waived their right to appraisal by engaging in litigation activity.  While litigation activities can constitute a waiver, courts closely scrutinize the extent of litigation activity initiated by the party trying to compel appraisal.  While simply responding to discovery requests, pleadings or motions filed by the opposition generally will not constitute a waiver of the right to compel appraisal, these same litigation activities can constitute a waiver when initiated by the party requesting appraisal.  The probability the court will find a waiver rises with increased litigation.

Another issue the court considered involved whether the dispute could be resolved by an appraisal panel as suggested by FIGA.  This contention turned on the role of the appraisal process.  However, the only issue to be decided in the case was the amount of the loss.  Because the question of coverage (i.e. liability) was not at issue, the matter was properly subject to appraisal.

The final issue before the court involved the selection of a neutral appraiser.  The homeowners selected their own attorney as a qualified appraiser.  The court pointed out that the duty of loyalty an attorney owes to his or her clients means that the homeowner’s attorney cannot be an impartial appraiser.

This case demonstrates some of the complicated issues that can arise when there are disputes about the value of a homeowners claim.  While appraisal is one approach to resolving insurance disputes, there are a range of options including other forms of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) and lawsuits.  The process of evaluating the best approach given your situation can be challenging.  Even after you have decided on the proper venue, there are many procedural, evidentiary and substantive laws and rules that homeowners must navigate.  An experienced Miami insurance claims attorney can guide you through the process while pursuing the full value of your claim.

If you have questions about Miami-Dade homeowners insurance claims, you are welcome to contact my Miami insurance claims law firm.  My law firm represents policyholders in claims disputes in Miami and throughout Florida.  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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