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True, False, or Merely Fallacious? Florida Courts Disagree About Whether or not ‘False Statements’ Should Be Intentional


A Florida appellate court docket not too long ago interpreted a “Concealment or Fraud” provision that voids protection the place an insured makes “materials false statements” as requiring intentional deception, extending the break up amongst the Florida appellate courts. In Vargas v. SafePointe Ins. Co., No. 3D19-1656, 2022 WL 108428 (Fla. 3d DCA Jan. 12, 2022), a home-owner reported a water loss to her property insurer following a plumbing leak. The insurer instantly requested restore invoices from prior claims and pictures of the pre-loss situation of the property. The home-owner, nevertheless, by no means offered this info. As a substitute, she submitted a sworn proof of loss with an itemized estimate.

The insurer subsequently denied protection and the home-owner, in flip, filed go well with. In discovery, the insurer served interrogatories asking about prior claims, and the home-owner disclosed solely a roof declare roughly a decade earlier. At her deposition, she testified that she had not made any prior insurance coverage claims involving plumbing leaks. However that testimony gave the impression to be incorrect. The insurer took the deposition of the home-owner’s earlier property insurer, who testified that the home-owner made the same plumbing declare just a few years earlier, and that the sooner declare included injury in most of the identical areas presently being claimed.

On account of this testimony, the insurer moved for abstract judgment, partly arguing protection is void below the Concealment or Fraud provision within the coverage:

3. Concealment or Fraud.

With respect to all individuals insured below this coverage, we offer no protection for loss if, whether or not earlier than or after a loss, a number of individuals insured below this coverage have:

a.   Deliberately hid or misrepresented any materials reality or circumstance;

b.   Engaged in fraudulent conduct; or

c.   Made materials false statements regarding this insurance coverage.

On the listening to on the movement, the home-owner testified that she didn’t recall the prior declare when answering the interrogatories and testifying at deposition.

On enchantment the court docket was requested whether or not the time period “false assertion” within the post-loss context means: (1) incorrect assertion, or (2) deliberately incorrect assertion. The court docket first analyzed competing definitions of the time period false, which is typically outlined as “opposite to reality or fact,” and different instances as “intentionally unfaithful.” Relying closely on dicta in Anchor Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Trif, 322 So. 3d 664 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021), the court docket concluded that within the authorized context, the time period “false” “carries the connotation of an deliberately misleading assertion.” The court docket acknowledged, nevertheless, that this interpretation could render elements of the Concealment of Fraud provision superfluous. If subpart (c) has an intent requirement, then it could do nothing greater than repeat subsection (a). However, if subpart (c) doesn’t have an intent part, then subsections (a) and (b) could also be pointless as a result of mere proof of incorrectness would forfeit protection.

Though courts ordinarily try and keep away from interpretations that render elements of a textual content superfluous, the court docket “decline[d] to use the rule in a fashion that defeats the frequent which means of ‘false assertion.’” As a substitute, the court docket “interpret[ed] the reference to ‘false statements’ within the ‘Concealment of Fraud’ provision below overview as requiring a component of fraudulent intent.”

In so holding, the court docket could have discovered the subparts irreconcilable as a result of it centered solely on the language of intent, and never on the variations between “concealment or misrepresentations of fabric reality or circumstance” and “statements regarding this insurance coverage.” A misrepresentation, nevertheless, doesn’t need to be spoken. A misrepresentation can be true however deceptive. As an illustration, if a home-owner said that she has not reported some other claims as a result of her insurance coverage agent reported them for her, that assertion could also be true, however it’s deceptive.

In distinction to Vargas, in Common Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Johnson, 114 So. 3d 1031 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), the court docket refused to learn in an intent requirement and interpret the time period “false assertion” in a fashion that makes the remainder of the Concealment or Fraud provision superfluous as a result of “there’s a cheap interpretation that doesn’t achieve this.” Surprisingly, Florida’s Fourth District Court docket of Enchantment adopted Johnson in Mezadieu v. SafePoint Ins. Co., 315 So. 3d 26 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021) solely months earlier than dismissing each in Trif. In Mezadieu, a home-owner referenced an estimate written by her public adjuster in explaining the damages she sought, though the estimate contained repairs undisputedly unrelated to the loss. The Fourth DCA defined that “a displaying of intent will not be required below the coverage’s concealment or fraud provision…. Merely put, an insured can not blindly depend on and undertake an estimate ready by his or her loss advisor with out consequence.”

The precedential worth of Johnson, Mezadieu, and Trif has been referred to as into query. Nonetheless, there seems to be battle amongst the Florida appellate courts as as to whether there is a component of intent to mislead included in coverage circumstances that void protection the place an insured makes materials false statements within the post-loss context.

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