Homeowners' insurance policies universally include a provision that requires an insured to provide notice of loss on a reasonably prompt basis. This notice requirement often constitutes a condition precedent to payment of a claim. Insurance carriers frequently assert "late notice" as a basis for denying a claim and as a defense in breach of contract lawsuits. Policies typically do not establish a specific deadline or time-frame within which notice must be given to a carrier by an insured. This two-part blog post provides a review of a court decision analyzing when the "prompt notice" provision in a homeowners policy is triggered. In Part I of this blog, our Miami Hurricane Damage Lawyers provide an overview of the specific facts and circumstances of the case. Part II reviews the court's analysis of when the notice provision commences based on the insured's knowledge of events or damage to the property.
The 3rd DCA of Florida in the case of Laquer v. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation ruled that notice is not necessarily late even when it is provided several years after exposure to the covered peril. The insured was the owner of a condominium unit that was rented to a tenant at the time of Hurricane Wilma. Although notice was not provided to the insurance company until three years after the hurricane, the appellate court rejected Citizens' contention that it was entitled to summary judgment because notice provided after this period was late as a matter of law.
Although a three-year passage of time often will run afoul of the notice requirement, the appellate court accepted the homeowner's contention that notice was prompt based on when the insured "knew or should have known" of the loss. The insured had taken protective measures to mitigate the risk of storm damage before Hurricane Wilma, including the installation of storm shutters. The owner of the neighboring unit with whom the insured shared a common wall took no such precautions. The sliding glass doors in the neighboring unit were blown out during the hurricane causing the unit to suffer significant flooding damage.
The manager of the condominium complex inspected the insured's condo unit immediately after the hurricane but did not discover any damage. The insured relied on the manager of the condo development, the housekeeper who handled the tenant's maintenance issues, and others regarding the condition of the premises. Some of those who visited the premises did so on a monthly basis and had a reputation for being conscientious about reporting and fixing damage. Despite these frequent visits and the presence of a tenant living in the unit, the policyholder did not receive any report of damage to the floor or walls of the unit until three years after the hurricane.
A month after the tenant moved out of the unit (September 2008), the insured visited the premises and discovered that wood flooring in the condo was warped due to water damage, but the property owner could not determine the cause. In April 2009, the policyholder retained an environmental contractor to perform mold remediation. The contractor observed water stains on the interior wall shared with the neighbor's unit and rusted metal inside the wall. Based on this inspection, the contractor concluded that wind-driven rain caused the damage after penetrating through the wall of the adjacent unit. The insured inquired of the condo manager about the findings and learned for the first time that the damage was likely caused by flooding of the adjacent unit during Hurricane Wilma. In May 2009, the insured filed a claim that was denied by the insurer based on late notice.
Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano: Seeking Maximum Recovery for Policyholders from Homeowners Insurance Companies
Our Miami homeowners insurance claims attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest compensation for our clients. We invite you to read the second installment of this two-part blog series that discusses the court's reasoning for finding the insured did not violate the "Prompt Notice" provision of the policy.
For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted homeowners in pursuing homeowners' insurance claims. We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages. Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida's top firms by the Miami Herald. Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.