Florida Appeals Court Rules Insurance Company May Not be Joined in Pending Fatal Car Accident Lawsuit

In Geico General Ins. Co. v. Lepine, a Florida man was unfortunately killed in a motor vehicle collision. Following the accident, the man’s wife filed a lawsuit on behalf of herself and her husband’s estate against the driver who was allegedly responsible for the fatal traffic wreck and his automobile insurer. According to the woman’s complaint, the insurance company reneged on its verbal agreement to pay her the full policy limits of $100,000.

In response to the lawsuit, the insurer filed a motion to dismiss the breach of contract claims brought against the company. In its motion, the business argued Section 627.4136 of the Florida Statutes barred the decedent’s wife from filing a direct cause of action against the insurance company. Under the so-called nonjoinder statute, a noninsured may not file a direct action against an insurance company in Florida without first obtaining a settlement or verdict against the insured party.

After stating the woman’s claim against the insurance company was essentially a motion to enforce an agreed upon settlement, the trial court concluded her claim was not barred by the nonjoinder statute. As a result, the court denied the company’s motion to dismiss. The insurer then filed an appeal with Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal.

On appeal, the court stated the trial court misapplied the applicable case law. According to the appellate court, the insurer’s purported pre-suit negotiations with the woman did not rise to the level of a settlement, nor did they constitute an independent obligation, since the negotiations arose out of the terms of the automobile insurance policy. Additionally, the court said no new obligation was created, since no consideration was offered to the insurer.

Next, the Court of Appeal examined the language of the nonjoinder statute. The court stated the law only allows an insurance company to be joined as a defendant following a final judgment or after “a settlement is reached during the pendency of litigation.” The appellate court said the nonjoinder statute was created in order to prevent jurors from learning that insurance proceeds are available and potentially tainting a verdict. The court added that allowing the woman to pursue her claim against the insurer prior to reaching a final verdict or settlement invited the exact type of situation the nonjoinder law was created to prevent.

Finally, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal granted the insurance company’s motion to dismiss the woman’s claim against it.

If you were hurt or someone you love died in a South Florida motor vehicle crash, you should contact a seasoned personal injury lawyer to discuss your rights as soon as you are able. To schedule a free confidential consultation with a knowledgeable Miami personal injury attorney, do not hesitate to contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or call us at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Geico General Ins. Co. v. Lepine, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2015

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