Many individuals in Florida have purchased some sort of insurance policy, whether it be car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or another form of insurance. Insurance can protect an individual when accidents occur, but, unfortunately, sometimes insurance companies can be difficult to work with, or may refuse to cover a claim even when they are supposed to. Insurance disputes are common because insurance companies pour significant resources into legal teams to limit their liability. One form of insurance dispute occurs when the parties disagree on the amount of loss suffered by the insured. Depending on the policy, there are different ways to solve this type of dispute; one common way is through an appraisal.
For example, take a recent Florida appellate case. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff had a homeowner’s insurance policy from State Farm, the defendant. The policy stated that when the two parties could not agree on the amount of loss suffered by the plaintiff, both parties would choose a qualified, disinterested appraiser who would then set the amount. In September of 2017, the plaintiff submitted a claim under the policy, and State Farm issued her a payment for her loss. However, the plaintiff disputed the amount of the loss, and notified State Farm that she was going to use a public adjuster as her appraiser. State Farm objected to this, because the plaintiff and the adjuster had an agreement that the adjuster would assist her and then receive a ten percent contingency fee. Because the adjuster received a portion of the final amount, State Farm argued that he could not be truly disinterested as the terms of the policy stated he must be.
The court ultimately agreed with State Farm. Under Florida law, when interpreting the terms of a contract, courts interpret plain and unambiguous language in accordance with its plain meaning. If a term has an ordinary meaning that it is usually assigned, then the court will give it that meaning in a contract, unless the parties specifically define it otherwise. The court found that the term disinterested could not apply to an adjuster who had a direct financial interest in the outcome; the higher the appraised value, the higher his commission. As such, the plaintiff was unable to retain the adjuster as her appraiser, and instead had to find an independent, disinterested appraiser who did not have a financial stake in the final outcome.