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.
In Florida, if a contract’s language is susceptible to more than one interpretation, the courts must determine the intent of the parties. If the language is unambiguous, courts will not go beyond the contract to determine its meaning. However, if it is ambiguous, courts will typically allow outside evidence to determine the parties’ intent.
For example, in this case, when discussing contract interpretation, the court stated that, barring specific situations, courts review contested language as a “reasonably prudent person would have understood the term[s] to mean.” In cases where the language at issue is part of an exclusionary provision, courts will construe words narrowly to provide the insured maximum coverage. However, the general rule is that courts will not rewrite policies to provide unintended coverage.
Here, the court reasoned that spiders are included in the ordinary meaning of “insects.” The court cited dictionaries that include spiders as an example of insects. Although spiders might not technically be insects, they are considered as such in popular usage. Further, the court noted that dictionaries define “vermin” as “noxious offensive creatures that infect,” and that a spider could be considered a vermin, as well. Therefore, in examining the plain meaning of the contract and terms, the homeowner’s allegations lacked merit. The court ultimately affirmed the dismissal of the homeowners’ complaint.
Has an Insurance Company Denied Your Claim?
If you are facing difficulties trying to recover coverage under a Florida insurance policy, you should contact Friedman Rodman & Frank, P.A. The attorneys at our law firm have a long, successful history of handling complex Florida bad faith insurance claims. We have represented clients in their cases involving uninsured motorist coverage, homeowners’ insurance, and life insurance claims. Contact one of our experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at 877-448-8585 to schedule a free initial consultation with someone on our legal team.