Under Florida Statute § 627.428, a party may be eligible to recover attorneys’ fees when a policyholder prevails and recovers actual insurance proceeds. However, not every insurance dispute or coverage lawsuit results in an award of attorneys’ fees. Typically, Florida courts authorize recovery of attorneys’ fees when the insurer has “wrongly withheld payment of the proceeds” of a policy. The law does not permit recovery of attorneys’ fees if the insured does not recover money or benefits, or if the court determines that the insurance company never wrongfully withheld payments.
Recently, the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida issued an opinion addressing whether attorneys’ fees were appropriate. In this case, the plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against an at-fault driver. The defendant passed away during the proceedings, and the plaintiff substituted his estate as a party defendant. While awaiting the case’s status, the trial court ordered the plaintiff to set up the estate for the defendant and substitute the defendant’s estate for his name. During this time, an estate was created for the defendant in probate court. The court did not name a personal representative, and the plaintiff substituted “John Doe” for the defendant in his complaint. After that, the probate court appointed a representative, however, the plaintiff failed to amend his complaint to include this update.
The plaintiff proposed a settlement agreement, and the defendants moved to dismiss the claim, arguing that the complaint named “John Doe” as the personal representative. The trial court ordered the plaintiff to amend his complaint, and a jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff argued that he was entitled to attorneys’ fees, because the defendants rejected his initial settlement offer.