COVID-19 FAQs

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion addressing issues that commonly occur in insurance coverage disputes between Florida homeowners and insurance companies. In this case, a couple in a neighboring state discovered that a home they recently purchased was infested with brown recluse spiders. After attempting to remedy the infestation, the couple bought a homeowners’ policy from an insurance company. The relevant provisions in the policy indicated that the company would provide coverage against the “direct loss to property,” in cases where there was a physical loss to the home. The policy enumerated exceptions to the coverage, including damages that were the result of “birds, vermin, rodents, or insects.” The insurance company cited that provision in their notice denying the homeowner’s claim.

In response to the denial, the homeowner’s filed a breach of contract lawsuit against the insurance company, alleging that the company was engaging in bad faith. They contended that the spiders presented a deadly risk and infested the entire home, rendering it unsafe for occupancy. They claimed that the insurance policy’s exclusionary provision did not apply because brown recluse spiders are not insects or vermin but rather arachnids.

Under Florida law, insurance companies must engage in good faith practices when reviewing a policyholder’s claim. Insurance companies must acknowledge the receipt of a claim, promptly investigate claims, respond to inquiries, not unnecessarily hinder progress, and offer valid and specific reasons for any denials or delays. In many instances, insurance companies cite specific provisions in the policy to support their decision. However, in some cases, this interpretation may be incorrect.

Going on a cruise should be a fun and relaxing experience. Many Florida residents go on cruise vacations each year, especially since many cruise ships leave from coastal Florida cities. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously harmed the cruise industry, as several ships have had outbreaks of the virus over the past several months. Cruise ships, while typically safe, can be breeding grounds for infectious illnesses, due to the large numbers of people in close proximity to each other all the time.

Recently, Congress opened up a probe into Carnival Corporation which operates Princess Cruises. According to a news report covering the probe, the federal government is concerned with how Carnival handled COVID-19 outbreaks on its ships and is requesting that they turn over all documents and communications about their COVID-19 response. The investigation is led by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and is specifically looking into how much Carnival executives knew about the severity of the outbreaks, and whether it took appropriate responsive action. Since the outbreaks began several months ago, there have been over 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the ships, and dozens of guests and crew members have died from the virus.

The probe comes after a Bloomberg news report was published, shedding light on the company’s response. According to the report, Carnival knew about the threat of COVID-19 but did not take action fast enough to mitigate the harm. Instead, ships allowed guests to continue being together in close proximity, sharing swimming pools and dinner buffets. One House representative, Peter DeFazio from Oregon, wrote that Carnival, with its nine cruise lines and 109 ships, was “trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat.”

Florida has one of the highest rates of car accidents involving uninsured or underinsured (UIM) drivers in the country. Car accidents with drivers without appropriate insurance can have long-term medical and financial consequences on a car accident victim, and Florida drivers must protect themselves.

Florida requires that motorists maintain two types of auto insurance, personal injury protection (PIP), and property damage liability (PD). Florida’s designation as a “no-fault” state means that a motorist’s PIP coverage will cover covert medical expenses up to $10,000, without consideration of fault. However, Florida does not require motorists to carry bodily injury coverage; this coverage pays expenses the other party incurs because of an accident. The only time this does not apply is if the responsible driver has been convicted of DUI.

In response to these potentially devastating situations, Florida insurance law requires insurance companies to offer motorists the option to purchase UIM coverage. Thus, although UIM coverage is not mandatory, insurance companies must offer coverage to policyholders. The insurance protects the insured if they are involved in an accident with another motorist who does not have any or enough bodily injury insurance. However, policyholders must understand that UIM coverage is only an option if they carry bodily injury coverage in an amount higher than the UIM coverage. Florida’s minimum bodily injury coverage is $10,000 per person and $20,000 per occurrence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted the lives of most Americans in Florida and across the United States. Employers, educational institutions, retailers, and almost every other industry has made changes to the way they operate. As a result, Florida drivers are typically only venturing out for mandatory travel or essential supplies. This has led to insurance companies experiencing a decrease in Florida car accident claims and higher profits.

According to an industry news source, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Economic Justice, issued a statement advising automobile insurance companies to provide their policyholders with premium relief. The agencies issued this advisory to help individuals who are facing financial difficulties because of an income reduction during this time. Insurance companies are using their discretion to determine whether they will take steps to issue refunds of policyholder’s premiums or provide them with another benefit. The Insurance Information Institute has stated that insurance companies will be returning nearly $10 billion to customers across the United States. However, because this is not a mandatory call to action, insurance companies have the choice as to whether they will reduce insurance rates or return premiums.

There are several different ways that Florida insurance companies are responding to this advisory. The most common actions that insurance companies are taking are reducing premiums, waiving late fees, and issuing discounts. These reductions include, multi-vehicle discounts, multi-vehicle discounts, safe driver discounts, occupation-related discounts, and professional association membership discounts.

In a recent case before a Florida appeals court, the court considered whether there was sufficient evidence the business had constructive notice of water on the floor in a Florida slip and fall case. In that case, the plaintiff fell when he was at a plasma donation center. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff went to donate plasma, and after he arrived, he completed paperwork and sat down in the waiting room. After about 45 minutes had passed, the plaintiff went to the men’s bathroom. He took a couple of steps inside and fell, suffering injuries that included a broken orbital bone.

The plaintiff filed a negligence claim against the center. He alleged that when he fell, he slipped and was pushed forward onto the floor. He testified that he saw about a cup of dirty water on the floor, a couple of muddy footprints, and a skid mark. He testified that some of the liquid got onto the side of his shirt. He said it appeared that somebody had slipped previously, and that there were at least two footprints that looked “like muddy footprints.” A medical supervisor at the facility wrote up an incident report that day, indicating that he checked the bathroom floor for liquid and did not find any. Still, it was not clear at what time he wrote the report, and the supervisor did not remember what he did when he entered the bathroom to investigate. According to the evidence, it was also possible that a janitor had already come and cleaned the bathroom.

Under Florida law, a business owner has a duty to invitees to take reasonable care to keep its premises reasonably safe, to warn of dangers it knew of or should have known of and which the invitee could not discover. Under section 768.0755 of Florida Statutes, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the foreign substance. Under that statute, a plaintiff must prove that the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have “taken action to remedy it.” The statute provides that constructive knowledge can be proven by showing that the condition existed for a length of time that the business should have known about the condition if it had exercised ordinary care, or the condition was foreseeable because it occurred regularly.

Florida landowners or occupiers have certain duties towards people who come on their property. The duties owed toward individuals depends on the relationship between the landowner and the entrant. The three classes of entrants recognized in Florida premises liability cases are invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Florida landowners and occupiers owe some degree of duty towards all three classes of entrants.

In the case of an “obvious danger,” Florida law recognizes that people can be assumed to perceive such dangers. If there is an obvious danger, a landowner or occupier may not be obligated to warn others of those dangers. Yet, a landowner is still required to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. This means that even if a landowner is relieved of warning others of apparent dangers, the landowner could still be liable for failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition.

A recent case before a federal appeals court showed how a property owner could be liable for failing to warn of a hazard and also of failing to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. In that case, the plaintiff tripped on the leg of a lounge chair when she was walking on a cruise ship. While on their way to a restaurant on the cruise ship, the plaintiff had to walk on a curved walkway between a row of lounge chairs and the ship’s railing. The plaintiff said that the space was so narrow that she walked behind her husband, which she said obstructed her view, and, that while she was walking, she tripped on the leg of a lounge chair, causing her to fall.

Recently, a Florida appellate court issued an opinion in a consolidated appeal arising from the tragic mass murders at the Pulse nightclub. The facts indicate that the shooter entered the nightclub shooting and injuring fifty-three patrons and killing forty-nine others. The survivors and decedents’ representatives filed a lawsuit against the company that hired the shooter to work as a “Custom Protection Officer.” The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant breached their duty to engage in an appropriate investigation of their prospective employees before hiring them, and this negligence created a foreseeable zone of risk to the general public.

In support of their claim, they provided evidence that the defendant knew that the man was dismissed from a corrections officer training class for making statements suggesting that he would bring a gun to class. Despite this knowledge, the defendant hired the man for a position that required him to obtain a Class G firearm license. The license requires a psychological evaluation, and the defendants submitted a fraudulent one on behalf of the man.

While the man was working for the company, the Sheriff’s Department demanded that the defendant terminate the man because he continually threatened his colleagues and claimed to be associated with various terrorist groups. About two weeks before the shooting, the man tried to purchase ammunition from a licensed gun dealer, but he was turned away. A week later, he brought his Class G license to a different retailer and purchased the guns that he used for the mass shooting. The plaintiffs maintain that the defendants owed them a legal duty because they were in the foreseeable zone of risk that the defendants created.

Recently, an appellate court issued its opinion in an appeal stemming from the tragic death of a man in a Florida hotel swimming pool. The man’s wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel alleging, among other issues, that the hotel was responsible for the death of her husband because they failed to hire professional lifeguards to supervise its swimming pool.

According to the court’s opinion, the man was a guest of the hotel when he entered the swimming pool, which was operated and maintained by the hotel. While the man was swimming, he became submerged and died from drowning. His wife alleged that that the hotel breached their duty to provide and maintain a reasonably safe swimming pool and failed to protect their guests from unreasonable risk of physical harm. During the trial, the court provided the jury with an instruction that Florida law had no legal duty to “post a professional lifeguard at its pool.” The woman appealed the jury instruction and the trial court’s ruling granting the defendant summary judgment.

Under Florida law, negligence occurs when a person or entity fails to exercise reasonable care by engaging in a behavior that a reasonably careful person would not do, or failing to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do under similar circumstances. Generally, trial courts maintain the discretion to determine whether a jury instruction is appropriate, and instructions should not be overturned on appeal, unless there is a showing of prejudicial error.

According to a news report, earlier this month, the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), asked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to provide health care facilities and providers with sovereign immunity for lawsuits related to the COVID-19 outbreak. The request asked the Governor to provide them with civil and criminal protection for any claim for damages related to their act or omission while providing healthcare services during the COVID-19 crisis. Further, the letter included a request for immunity for these entities and professionals if they are arranging or providing health care services.

Florida code defines health care facilities as agencies that are authorized to provide health care services, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes. The code also includes any site that provides health care services related to the COVID-19 outbreak. FHCA’s proposal does not include claims that are the result of any willful or intentional criminal or reckless misconduct, gross negligence, or intentional infliction of harm. However, it does request protection from acts and omissions related to staff or resource shortages.

Florida has the highest percentage of older adults in the country and almost 700 licensed nursing homes. Research suggests that those older adults that live in long-term supportive housing and nursing homes are at risk for abuse and neglect. Although many variables make the rate challenging to quantify, studies suggest that at least 1 in 10 residents over the age of 60 have suffered abuse or neglect in a nursing home. Additionally, about 20 percent of Florida COVID-19 deaths are residents of nursing home facilities.

Individuals who suffer injuries because of a defective or unsafe product may hold the product designer, manufacturer, or distributor liable for their damages. Florida product liability laws cover many industries and products, including pharmaceuticals, nutrition supplements, food products, automotive parts and products, housewares, recreational equipment, infant products, and construction materials and tools. Florida permits product liability plaintiffs to recover for their injuries under three types of claims; negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.

Breach of warranty claims arises when a plaintiff argues that the designer or manufacturer breached its express or implied warranty claims regarding their product. Strict liability claims do not require a plaintiff to prove fault, but only that the defective product caused their injuries. Negligence claims, on the other hand, require the plaintiff to establish that they suffered damages because the defendant negligently designed, manufactured, or marketed their products. To recover for their injuries, plaintiffs must be able to prove causation-in-fact and foreseeability. When there are multiple defendants or causes for the plaintiff’s injuries, plaintiffs must also be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence was a “substantial contributing” factor to their injuries.

For example, a Florida appeals court recently issued its opinion in a case stemming from injuries a man suffered after exposure to benzene products during his lengthy career as a carpet and flooring installer. The man filed lawsuits against multiple defendants, arguing that he developed bone marrow and blood diseases because of long term exposure to benzene products. The defendants successfully moved for summary judgment, contending that the man failed to establish which product caused his illness. The man responded that the defendants were relying on the incorrect “but for” standard instead of the appropriate “substantial contributor” standard.

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