Insurance coverage and claims are often among the most confusing and troublesome matters that developers and community associations must address, and large claims involving serious property damage from any type of disaster will typically require the guidance and expertise of attorneys and public adjusters.
After growing up in the insurance industry as the daughter of one of Florida’s premier policyholder advocates, my exposure to insurance practices began at a remarkably young age. As a dually licensed public adjuster and attorney, I focus on insurance matters for our firm’s community association clients as well as property and business owners. Through my unique upbringing in conjunction with my years of practice, I have learned that virtually all insureds would amass a great benefit by working with a loss consultant and experienced legal counsel when handling an insurance claim.
The firm’s Susan C. Odess, who focuses exclusively on insurance law and represents community associations as well as individual residential and commercial property owners in insurance matters, wrote the following guest column that appeared in the May 25 edition of the Miami Herald’s “Business Monday” section:
In January I had the privilege of leading one of the courses for the attendees of the 36th annual Community Associations Institute Law Seminar in San Francisco. More than 550 community association attorneys from throughout the country attended the four-day event, which focused on discussions of emerging trends and legislative issues that are important to the practice of community association law.
Community associations maintain a number of different types of insurance policies to cover various risks, including physical damage, bodily injury, and employee or director dishonesty. Association boards typically rely on their insurance agents to help them shop the major insurance carriers for the most competitive premiums and coverage. Ultimately, policies are acquired by associations, often times with little thought about their provisions other than the costs of the premiums related to the coverage. However, recent experiences with two of our firm’s community association clients have served as reminders pertaining to the importance for board members and property managers to understand the provisions of their insurance policies, including the exclusions and conditions of such coverage.
For the last several years, the state of Florida has been pursuing major efforts to shrink the size of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance, and the company’s policy count has reached its lowest level since 2006. Now the legislature is considering expanding these efforts to Citizens’ insurance policies for condominiums and apartments. Senate Bill 7062 would increase rates for new master condo policies and allow unregulated “surplus lines” insurers to pull existing condominium and apartment policies away from Citizens. However, in an election year when Gov. Rick Scott has expressed concerns about any measures that would increase rates, the bill faces a difficult uphill climb.
Last year I participated in a discussion with an Associated Press reporter and wrote about a central Florida community association’s apparent endorsement of George Zimmerman as its neighborhood watch captain and his involvement in a tragic incident that took the life of the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I addressed the possibility that the victim’s family may file a wrongful death civil suit against the association. Last month, news broke about the purported settlement reached between the parents of the victim and the association for an undisclosed amount reported by several news outlets to be in excess of $1 million.
Recently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in the case of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. v. River Manor Condominium Association, Inc., ruled that an insurer is not required to provide an association with coverage for “all portions of the condominium property located outside the units” and “all portions of the condominium property for which the declaration of condominium requires coverage by the association,” notwithstanding the requirements of Section 718.111, Florida Statutes. In the case, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. (“Citizens”) provided insurance to River Manor Condominium Association, Inc. (the “Association”) for a residential condominium comprised of three buildings and exterior common elements. The condominium was damaged in Hurricane Wilma and, when the parties were unable to agree on the extent of the damage, they participated in a mandatory appraisal process that resulted in an award that specified the total loss sustained by each building and the exterior common elements.
A 5-2 majority decision by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Tiara Condominium Association v. Marsh & McLennan limits the legal principle known as the “economic loss rule” only to product liability cases, thereby allowing many claims for breach of contract in the state to be accompanied by tort claims of negligence. The ruling allows the association to proceed with its lawsuit seeking to recover approximately $50 million in damages from its insurance broker, which it claims knew the 42-story oceanfront tower on Singer Island in Palm Beach County was underinsured and failed to tell the association.
Recently, the Fifth District Court of Appeal issued the opinion of Kings Ridge Community Association v. Sagamore Insurance Company, clarifying what constitutes a covered “collapse” under an All Risk Business Owner’s policy. On February 24, 2010, the association’s clubhouse began to shake, which was apparently caused by a failure of the roof trusses, which had deflected downward by approximately twelve inches. As a result, the drop ceiling and soffits deflected downward, and there was a substantial depression in the flat roof.