There is probably nothing more terrifying than experiencing a fire in your home. Imagine safely avoiding injury only to have your fire insurance company refuse to play fair. That is what happened to this family that evacuated to a hotel with their children and dogs without the money to fight back. Luckily, they called us. Most policyholders, like you, don't have a stack of cash set aside in case they need an attorney. It's just not possible. Florida legislators know that. It's the reason they enacted Fla. Stat. § 627.428, to protect you. Why do you need protection? Because insurance companies have a lot of incentive to pay less than the full value of your claim. The less they pay, the more of your money they keep. With that motivation, many insurance companies delay payment on your claim, tell you certain damages are not covered, and estimate your damages much lower than they actually are. They have plenty of resources, time, and money to play this game as long as it takes—years if necessary—for you to give up and accept less than you are owed.
And, what do you have? A damaged home, car, or body and likely less cash reserves than usual because you have increased medical or repair expenses, perhaps even less income or ability to earn. Unlike the insurance company, you probably don't have the financial resources to fight a wrongful denial when you expected the insurance company to protect you. That's not fair. And, that is why Fla. Stat. § 627.428 usually requires theinsurance company, not you, to pay not only the amount owed on the claim but also attorney's fees if you have to file suit on your claim and you make a recovery. This law is how we can help people when insurance companies treat people unfairly. We have the resources to fight against these giants and regularly deploy our resources on behalf of our clients. That is exactly what we did for these clients in a four-year litigation battle over Florida Peninsula Insurance Company's obligation to pay both the claim and the policyholders' attorney's fees in full. The battle included an appeal.
A Contingency Fee Lets You Pursue Justice Without Incurring Any Fee or Cost Unless You Win
When we take an insurance case on a contingency basis at our firm, that means you, the policyholder, are not required to pay us any fee or cost unless and until we recover from the insurance company. This means we cover all costs incurred in the litigation (filing fees, hiring of experts, the cost to take and transcribe depositions, etc.), and we do not charge you any fees for our time throughout the litigation no matter how many hundreds of hours we work. This is a gamble on our part because, if the insurance company wins, we lose the value of our time and the costs we put in. There is nothing owed by the policyholder if we lose.
A Multiplier Empowers You to Find Competent, Skilled Counsel Capable of Taking That Risk
If you have a difficult case against an insurance company and you cannot afford to pay an attorney upfront to help you (a situation most of our clients find themselves in), this puts you at a serious disadvantage to the insurance company which has immense resources, time, and funds to continue fighting your claim. Fla. Stat. § 627.428, along with a multiplier, evens that playing field. You may be wondering: what is a multiplier? When a policyholder prevails against an insurance company, she can ask the court to issue a multiplier, meaning the court multiplies the fee amount the insurance company has to pay by 1 to 2.5 times.
The Florida Supreme Court has outlined the three factors that can support a trial judge's entry of a contingency fee multiplier: (1) where the relevant market shows a small number of skilled attorneys willing and able to take your case; (2) where you are not able to pay the attorney an upfront retainer or on an hourly basis; and (3) where the case is novel or complex, likely requiring extensive effort, skill, and financial backing by the attorney to pursue, perhaps even requiring him to forego other business opportunities. See Joyce v. Federate National Insurance Co., 228 So.3d 112 (Fla. 2017). When these elements are present, Florida law requires the attorney's fee award the insurance company is required to pay be multiplied by 1 to 2.5 times.
Florida Peninsula's Failed Attempt to Challenge This Law and Avoid Paying the Policyholders' Attorney's Fees in Full
The case we recently went head-to-head against Florida Peninsula Insurance Company (“FPIC”) on appeal arose out of a house fire that occurred in 2015 and the insurance claim for the damages it caused. FPIC breached the insurance policy and refused to treat these clients fairly. Because of FPIC's conduct, the claim went unpaid for over four years while we litigated FPIC's obligation under the policy. It was a costly battle that did not require any upfront payment from our clients thanks to Fla. Stat. § 627.428, which enabled us to take the case on contingency. Right before trial in 2019, FPIC entered into a Consent Judgment where FPIC agreed to finally pay an agreed amount due on the claim. Although FPIC subsequently appealed its own promise to pay, it lost that appeal. In addition, because judgment was entered for the policyholder, our clients sought—as is their right under Fla. Stat. § 627.428—to have FPIC pay their attorney's fees and for a multiplier pursuant to the Florida Supreme Court's ruling in Joyce.
FPIC convinced the trial judge that a multiplier was not warranted. We appealed that ruling for the clients. FPIC filed a brief on appeal arguing, not surprisingly, in support of the trial judge's denial of a multiplier. Thankfully, the Florida First DCA agreed with our clients and granted our appeal of the trial court's ruling. The case will now go back down to Walton County for the trial judge to apply the law as directed by the First DCA and determine FPIC's obligation to pay our clients' attorney's fees to the full extent required by Florida law.
Read the full opinion, Wesson v. Florida Peninsula Insurance Co, 45 Fla. L Weekly D1217 (Fla. 1st DCA, 2020), here.
While it can sometimes feel infuriating having to fight for insurance benefits you are owed for years and years in court, incurring significant costs and expending significant time, rulings like this one—where our clients' struggle is recognized and their rights reaffirmed—make it worth it. Rulings like this invigorate us to continue to fight the good fight. If you feel an insurance company is trying to skirt its obligation to pay your claim in full, don't let them get away with it. Contact us today for a free, no fee, no-cost (thanks to Fla. Stat. § 627.428!), no-obligation consultation.