One of the greatest obstacles many people face when deciding whether to file suit in order to assert their legal rights is the cost of litigation. The misconception that policyholders need to have thousands of dollars available to file a lawsuit against a large corporation like an insurance company is alive and well.
Legal fees should not hinder someone from seeking payment on a lawful claim filed with an insurance company. The Fifth District Court of Appeals of Florida recently addressed the question of whether a homeowner whose claim was initially denied but who prevailed through litigation can seek payment of her attorney’s fees through the Court. The Florida Supreme Court has granted an appeal of the case, Omega Insurance Co. v. Johnson. This action by our state’s highest court means that the decision rendered by the lower court is subject to change. However, the initial answer appears to depend on the situation.
The Facts of Omega Insurance v. Johnson
In Omega Insurance, the insurer issued a policy to homeowner Kathy Johnson. The homeowner’s policy included language relating to coverage for sinkhole damage. When the homeowner observed structural damage to her residence, she promptly filed a claim with her insurer. After a company specializing in engineering and geology conducted an investigation and determined that the damage to the home was not caused by sinkhole activity, the insurance company denied the homeowner’s claim.
The homeowner decided to retain the services of a company that provides civil engineering services in order to provide a second opinion as to source of damage to her residence. This second engineering firm did find that sinkhole activity was the cause of the structural damage to the home. The homeowner then filed a lawsuit against her insurance company for its failure to honor its obligations under the policy.
Prior to trial, a neutral evaluation was conducted by yet another engineering firm. This subsequent report was consistent with the homeowner’s report that sinkhole activity was to blame for the home’s structural damage. Following the receipt of this third report, the insurance company paid the homeowner the benefits due. The homeowner then moved the court to award her attorney’s fees incurred in bringing the action. When the trial court awarded her the requested attorney’s fees, the insurance company appealed.
Court of Appeals Holds Attorney’s Fees Not Proper in This Case
The Fifth District Court of Appeals overruled the lower court, ruling that an award of attorney’s fees was inappropriate. The Court of Appeals’ decision was influenced by its determination that the insurance company had not acted wrongfully in initially denying the homeowner’s claim. The court’s decision also referenced the fact that attorney’s fees were not proper because the homeowner had not attempted to discuss her claim or notify her insurer that she found the initial report conclusions unacceptable prior to filing suit.
You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].