On June 14, 2023, the Florida First District Court of Appeal (“DCA”) ruled in favor of our client, Joseph Silvia, and against Castle Key Insurance Company, finding Castle Key's attempt to avoid having a jury determine how much it owed on the claim—by invoking appraisal too late—failed under the law. The right to have our disputes determined by a jury of our peers is a fundamental right and pillar of our civil justice system. At TWWH, we trust citizens like you to determine how much an insurance company owes on the claim. In this Hurricane Michael dispute, TWWH attorneys, Stephanie Taylor and Phillip Warren, fought to protect and enforce Mr. Silvia's right to have his dispute judged by a jury of his peers.
After extensive briefing and oral argument, the First DCA found Castle Key waived its right to invoke appraisal months after litigation had begun. In insurance disputes, the policy often grants either party the right to invoke appraisal, as opposed to resolving the dispute in litigation. However, to preserve the right to invoke appraisal (and avoid litigation), an insurance company has to act consistently with that right. Here, the First DCA found Castle Key acted inconsistently with that right and, therefore, waived it. Meaning, Castle Key's attempt to thwart Mr. Silvia's lawsuit and avoid a trial by jury of his Hurricane Michael dispute by invoking appraisal came too little, too late. Now, whether Castle Key failed to fulfill its obligations to Mr. Silvia will be tried—not by appraisers and an umpire, but—by a jury of Mr. Silvia's peers.
The Silvia v. Castle Key Insurance Company Appeal
In this case—a Hurricane Michael insurance dispute—Castle Key had admitted coverage, leaving only the amount of the loss, i.e., how much Castle Key owed on the claim, as the sole remaining issue and making the matter ripe for appraisal. When Castle Key failed to pay our client the full amount of the loss, we filed suit. In response, Castle Key did not invoke appraisal. It answered the Complaint. In its Answer, Castle Key did not raise its right to appraisal. It demanded this dispute be tried before a jury. As litigation continued and the parties engaged in discovery, Castle Key did not, at that point, attempt to invoke its right to appraisal. It participated in the exchange of documents and information. Despite these numerous actions Castle Key took that were inconsistent with its right to invoke appraisal, the trial court ultimately granted Castle Key's motion to compel appraisal.
Castle Key also took the bold and unfounded position that the first moment a matter becomes ripe for appraisal is not when the last issue to decide is the amount in controversy, it is when the policyholder prepares and produces a settlement demand. Unfortunately for Castle Key, this is not the law. And, that is the reason the First DCA ruled against Castle Key on this argument and found, as the law states, that: 1) a matter becomes ripe for appraisal when the only remaining issue is the amount in controversy; and 2) when a party then takes actions inconsistent with its right to appraisal—as Castle Key did here—this constitutes a waiver of that right.
Quotes from the Justices
Justice Ray wrote the majority opinion, in which Justice Thomas and Justice Tanenbaum concurred. In Ray's words:
“[T]he record does not show that Castle Key deliberately evaluated the nature of the claims and then invoked appraisal at the first reasonable opportunity. Instead, Castle Key actively participated in litigation, which conflicted with and thus waived its right to appraisal.”
In his concurring opinion, Justice Tanenbaum found “Castle Key's lack of diligence in enforcing the appraisal right” made its late attempt to invoke appraisal “suspect.”
You can read the First DCA Silvia opinion here.
TWWH Attorney, Stephanie Taylor, Crushed the Oral Argument on Appeal
TWWH attorneys, Stephanie Taylor and Phillip Warren, represented Mr. Silvia before the trial court and brought this appeal before the First DCA after the trial court ruled erroneously in favor of Castle Key. On June 7, 2022, Stephanie Taylor appeared before the First DCA to attend the oral argument and fight for Mr. Silvia's right to a jury trial in this case. You can watch the video from Stephanie's June 7th oral argument before the First DCA via the link below. We are so proud of Stephanie's courage and poise before the court.
At TWWH, we are prepared to fight insurance companies not only before litigation, but also during litigation and even to appeal incorrect legal decisions, as Stephanie and the team did in this case. We are also proud of the First DCA for carefully considering our appeal, weighing the evidence, and applying the law to the facts in issuing this opinion. The only way we can help policyholders just like you hold big, powerful insurance companies accountable is through our civil justice system, and the system only works when all parties involved respect the law and the process. Please help us congratulate our client, Joseph Silvia, on this significant win.