When you tell your insurance company “You owe me X dollars to fix my house,” you expect them to pay that amount, or at least an amount close enough you're willing to accept it. What do you do if they respond with “Well, we don't like that number. Here's 30% of it.” As experienced hurricane attorneys, we know this process too well. The next step is to dispute their measly payment, prove it's too low, then sue for breach of contract and, if appropriate, bad faith next because of their obstinate refusal to pay a far more reasonable percentage of X. That is exactly what happened in our case against UPC where the jury awarded our client more than three times what UPC paid before it denied the claim. Thankfully, when UPC tried to avoid our client's claim for bad faith—by arguing she asked for so much they couldn't figure out what to pay—the judge wasn't having it. Here's what happened.
The Trial, Jury Award, and Our Client's Claim for Bad Faith
The highlights: UPC only paid our client $55,000 to fix her extensive Hurricane Michael damage. She got an estimate to repair for $204,000 and asked UPC to pay that amount. They refused then wrongfully denied the claim. We sued and took the case to trial, where a jury awarded our client $175,000 to fix her home. Because UPC refused to pay a reasonable amount on the claim before wrongfully denying it, we filed a Civil Remedy Notice (“CRN”) to perfect our client's claim for bad faith. We've discussed this procedure for filing a bad faith action here.
When drafting a CRN—which gives the insurance company sixty (60) days to “cure” (fix) their bad claims handling—you have to tell the insurance how to cure. The cure can be specific, e.g. “pay X” or “admit coverage for the windows.” But it can also simply say “handle my claim in good faith.” For our client, we instructed UPC to pay her estimate of $204,000 to cure the CRN. What did UPC do? Ignored her request. Even when the jury came back with $175,000 within the 60-day period UPC had to cure—a time when payment of that amount would have cured the bad faith—UPC paid nothing and denied any wrongdoing.
UPC's Attempt to Avoid the Claim for Bad Faith
In response to our claim for bad faith, UPC asked the court to dismiss it outright. UPC argued it could not cure the CRN because our client asked for more than the jury awarded her—“almost $100,000 more!”—defense counsel bellowed. But here's the thing. It's not our client's job to estimate the claim. It's UPC's. The fact that her estimate came in higher than what the jury awarded has zero impact on UPC's duty to her to estimate and pay the claim in good faith. Florida courts have explained in situations like this—where the CRN cure amount is vague or high—“‘common sense suggests that the action [the insurance company] could have taken to cure the alleged violation would be to increase the amount offered to settle [the Homeowners'] claim.'” Lugassy v. United Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 2022 WL 17171368, at *2–3 (Fla. 4th DCA2022) (quoting Altheim v. GEICO Gen. Ins. Co., 2011 WL 161050, at *4 (M.D. Fla. 2011)). What's worse is, here, UPC knew the exact amount to pay. The jury told them: $175,000. Yet they still obstinately refused, which is why the judge also refused UPC's request for a dismissal of the bad faith claim. You can read the Court's order denying UPC's request here.
Don't Let Your Insurance Company Do This to You
We share these rulings so our many clients and local homeowners out there know you can fight back. You don't have to be treated unfairly by your insurance company. The road will be long and draining, but, as we tell our clients, we'll be there with you. If you feel your insurance company has lowballed your claim or is not listening to you or treating you in good faith, never hesitate to contact us. We never charge any fee or cost or require any obligation to simply review your claim and answer your questions. We're to help. And to fight, too.