Florida Liability Insurer Held Jointly and Severally Liable for Costs in Car Accident Case

In New Hampshire Indemnity Co. v. Gray, a Florida driver was sued following a catastrophic auto accident. Throughout the case, the man’s insurance company provided a defense to the motorist, pursuant to the terms of his liability insurance policy. At the close of the trial, a jury awarded the plaintiff about $2.3 million in damages.

After a final judgment was entered against the driver, the injured plaintiff sought tax costs against the insurance company. The plaintiff also sought to join the insurer in the judgment. The company opposed the injured plaintiff’s request and argued it could not be held responsible for costs under the terms of the liability policy. Additionally, the insurer claimed it could not be joined in the judgment because the plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements enumerated in Section 627.4136(4) of the Florida Statutes. After the plaintiff complied with the terms of the law, but before the insurance company received notice, the trial court held the company jointly and severally liable for over $135,000 in costs.

On appeal before Florida’s First District, the insurer argued the company was improperly joined, the trial court did not “articulate any basis” for adding the insurer to the judgment or make findings regarding whether the liability policy covered costs, and the insurance policy excluded costs from its coverage. First, the appellate court stated the insurance company failed to preserve its claim that the lower court did not articulate a basis for adding the insurer to the judgment for appeal. Despite this, the court stated it would rule that the judgment was not defective even if the issue were preserved because it appeared that the trial court considered the parties’ respective positions and adopted the viewpoint put forth by the plaintiff.

Next, the court dismissed the company’s complaint that the plaintiff’s service was procedurally inadequate. The First District stated the insurer admitted to receiving a copy of the motion for joinder prior to the hearing. In addition, the company did not seek a continuance or ask for additional time during which to prepare a defense. The court said the trial court did not abuse its discretion when ruling on the merits of the motion because the insurance company was not prejudiced by the plaintiff’s error.

Finally, the appellate court addressed the insurer’s substantive argument. The court stated an insurer may not be named as a defendant in Florida unless a judgment has already been obtained against the insured. After examining the relevant case law, the court said it was unfair and absurd to allow an insurance company to choose litigation over settlement without consulting the insured, but still deny liability for any litigation costs incurred.

Finally, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s judgment holding the insurer jointly and severally liable for the plaintiff’s litigation expenses.

If you were injured in a serious South Florida car accident, you should discuss your rights with a caring attorney as soon as you are able. To schedule a free consultation with a skillful Miami personal injury lawyer soon, do not hesitate to contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or call us today at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

New Hampshire Indemnity Co. v. Gray, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

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