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HomeProperty InsuranceTrue, False, or Merely Mistaken? Florida Courts Disagree About Whether or not...

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

A Florida appellate courtroom lately interpreted a “Concealment or Fraud” provision that voids protection the place an insured makes “materials false statements” as requiring intentional deception, extending the cut 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 house owner, nevertheless, by no means offered this data. As a substitute, she submitted a sworn proof of loss with an itemized estimate.

The insurer subsequently denied protection and the house owner, in flip, filed swimsuit. In discovery, the insurer served interrogatories asking about prior claims, and the house 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 seemed to be incorrect. The insurer took the deposition of the house owner’s earlier property insurer, who testified that the house owner made an analogous plumbing declare just a few years earlier, and that the sooner declare included injury in lots of the identical areas presently being claimed.

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

3. Concealment or Fraud.

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

a.   Deliberately hid or misrepresented any materials truth 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 house owner testified that she didn’t recall the prior declare when answering the interrogatories and testifying at deposition.

On enchantment the courtroom 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 courtroom first analyzed competing definitions of the time period false, which is typically outlined as “opposite to truth or fact,” and different occasions as “intentionally unfaithful.” Relying closely on dicta in Anchor Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Trif, 322 So. 3d 664 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021), the courtroom concluded that within the authorized context, the time period “false” “carries the connotation of an deliberately misleading assertion.” The courtroom acknowledged, nevertheless, that this interpretation might 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). Alternatively, if subpart (c) doesn’t have an intent element, 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 courtroom “decline[d] to use the rule in a way that defeats the widespread that means of ‘false assertion.’” As a substitute, the courtroom “interpret[ed] the reference to ‘false statements’ within the ‘Concealment of Fraud’ provision beneath overview as requiring a component of fraudulent intent.”

In so holding, the courtroom might 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 truth or circumstance” and “statements regarding this insurance coverage.” A misrepresentation, nevertheless, doesn’t must be spoken. A misrepresentation may also be true however deceptive. For example, if a home-owner acknowledged that she has not reported another 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 courtroom refused to learn in an intent requirement and interpret the time period “false assertion” in a way 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 Courtroom of Attraction 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, regardless that the estimate contained repairs undisputedly unrelated to the loss. The Fourth DCA defined that “a displaying of intent will not be required beneath 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 marketing consultant with out consequence.”

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

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