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.