Universal v. Navlen: How (Not To) Prove Wind Damage in a Hurricane Claim

Posted by Phillip Warren | Feb 19, 2024 | 0 Comments

As insurance attorneys who have been helping homeowners with their hurricane insurance claims for decades, we are always on the lookout for opinions from the courts that involve hurricane claims.  In this case, sadly, the policyholders did not put forth a reliable expert to prove their wind damage.  Although they won a jury verdict before the trial court, on appeal, Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal (4th DCA) agreed with Universal that the insureds' expert should have been stricken at the trial court level, and it reversed and remanded for a new trial.  Meaning, these insureds now have to start all over again with a new trial.  At TWWHB, our attorneys understand how choosing a well-qualified expert—both at the trial court level but also with an eye toward the appellate level where the jury's verdict could be reversed—is critical to the success of the claim.  Here's what you need to know about the policyholders' expert in this case. 

Read Univ. Prop & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Navlen, 2023 Fla. App. LEXIS 6590 (Fla. 4th DCA 2023)


Expert Testimony Must be Reliable to be Admitted

In Florida, in order for an expert to be permitted to testify before a jury as an authoritative figure, he or she must meet the well-established standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Daubert and codified at Fla. Stat § 90.702. Under this standard, courts are required to act as “gatekeepers” to ensure the methodology supporting the expert's opinion is sufficiently reliable to be admitted for the jury to consider.  This can be done by showing the expert's methods and reasoning can or have been tested, are subject to peer review, and are generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.  In this hurricane claim, the insureds retained an expert to inspect their property and provide an expert opinion on whether the damage at issue was caused by wind, making it covered damage under the policy. Unfortunately, their expert fell short of the Daubert standard in several areas.

The Expert's Failure to Gather and Rely Upon Sufficient Data

In Navlen, the insureds' expert relied upon certain “Benchmark Data” to support his opinion about wind speeds.  However, he could not produce any independent corroboration of the Benchmark Data or prove that it could be tested, was subject to peer review, and/or was generally accepted in the scientific community.  Essentially, the expert attempted to prove the reliability of his Benchmark Data based on his word that he “uses it all the time.”  The 4th DCA found this was insufficient under Daubert

Second, the expert relied upon wind speed data that was gathered seventeen (17) miles from the property at issue.  The 4th DCA found this was too far of a distance to support a reliable opinion about the wind speed at the subject property, relying upon Gonzalez v. Citizens Prop. Ins. Co., 273 So. 3d 1031 (Fla. 3d DCA 2019), which found a measurement taken only three (3) miles away was not an accurate reflection of wind speed at the subject property.  Based on these findings, the 4th DCA concluded the expert's wind damage opinions should have been stricken, requiring remand for a new trial. 

How This Opinion Impacts You

We share opinions like this to educate homeowners on the nuances and complexities that can make or break a hurricane claim—one of which is an expert whose opinions aren't supported by adequate data or reliable methodologies.  Proving damage was caused by wind—or a combination of wind and some other cause—can sometimes be very difficult and requires the skill and experience of seasoned experts and insurance attorneys.  If you are not familiar with the insurance investigation and claim adjustment process, or with insurance claim litigation, the best move you can make is to find and retain an experienced insurance attorney to assist you with your claim.  At Taylor, Warren, Weidner, Hancock & Barnes, we never require any fee or obligation to simply review your claim, answer your questions, and share our thoughts and experience with you.  If you are trying to battle your insurance company on your own and you don't feel you are being treated fairly, contact us for a free consultation.  It is our mission to help homeowners learn their rights and take the best steps possible to protect their right to recover on their insurance claim. 

About the Author

Phillip Warren

Phillip devotes the same honor, courage, and commitment to his clients as he did in the USMC.


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