The plaintiff was the owner of a waterfront restaurant which sustained substantial flood damage in 2004 as a result of Hurricane Ivan. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant insurance agency negligently reduced his flood insurance coverage despite his specific instructions not to do so. The defendant insurance agency maintained that its agent followed the plaintiff’s instructions to lowering the limits of all his personal property policies, including the flood policy. The insurance carrier involved was initially named as a defendant, but was voluntarily dismissed from the case prior to trial.
The plaintiff obtained flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program through the defendant insurance agency. The plaintiff’s flood coverage was initially $275,600. The plaintiff testified that he asked the defendant’s agent to reduce his coverage for general liability, wind storm and fire, but that he specifically instructed he agent no to reduce his flood insurance policy.
The plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s agent negligent reduced the policies for all hazards, including flood, to $150,000. The plaintiff also contended that the defendant failed to obtain his signature for reduction of the flood insurance coverage, as required by federal law. When Hurricane Ivan hit the Pensacola area in September of 2004, the plaintiff had inadequate flood insurance to cover its property damage which was alleged to be in excess of the original policy limits.
The flood insurance carrier paid the plaintiff the $150,000 flood policy limit. The plaintiff sought an additional $125,600 in flood coverage to bring his recovery to the $275,600 level of his original flood insurance policy.
The defendant’s insurance agent testified that the plaintiff requested a reduction in all of his insurance coverages. The agent made a note simultaneous to his conversation with the plaintiff the note indicated “APP $150”. The agent testified that the note was his shorthand to indicate that all personal property coverages were to be reduced to $150,000. The defense further contended that the plaintiff received a declaration page which showed the coverage he was purchasing and indicated $150,000 in flood insurance.
The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded him $113,040 in damages (the plaintiff had received some funds from the carrier for reimbursement of premiums). Post-trial, the court awarded attorney fees to the plaintiff under a Florida Statute which permits an insured to recover fees for successfully litigating a claim against an insurer. The defendant has appealed the award of attorney fees, contending that the statute has no application for claims of negligence against an insurance agent.
Lillo’s vs. Underwood Anderson & Associates. Case no. 2005CA 001027; Judge Frank Bell, 3-31-09.