Experts in First-Party Insurance Cases Can Help Get Your Case to a Jury
In most cases, when there is a dispute over the facts of the case, the homeowner in a first-party homeowners’ insurance dispute is entitled to have a jury decide the dispute.
Florida civil law does provide for a summary judgment procedure, which allows a judge to decide a case before it even gets to a jury if the facts are so skewed or slanted to a party that there’s no need to go all the way to a jury trial. That’s a rare occurrence, but it’s happening more and more in insurance cases. What’s distressing is that it’s happening when both parties have experts who give contrary opinions. Some courts have taken the insurance company’s expert opinions as the gospel, and ignoring the homeowners’ experts before the case even gets to a jury.
Battle of the Experts
That’s what makes a recent case so important for homeowners. The case arose from a home with water damage in Miami. The homeowner provided a loss estimate of about $23,000 to the insurance company.
The insurance company’s expert engineer examined the property and determined the leak was caused by age-related deterioration and construction defects, and thus, was excluded from coverage.
In response, the homeowners (now represented by an attorney) hired their own expert that said the damage was caused by a one-time weather-related event—a covered loss—and that there was no evidence to show the damage was caused by any long-term event.
Although there was clearly a distinct difference between these experts’ opinions, the court ruled in favor of the insurance company before the case even was presented to the jury. As justification, the court noted the homeowner’s expert had done his examination months after the loss, while the insurance company’s expert did hers shortly after the damage.
Appellate Court Sends Case Back
On appeal, the court disagreed with the lower court. Issues such as when an expert reviews information goes to the expert’s credibility, or how much weight should be given an expert’s opinion. These are issues to be resolved by a jury. It is not a court’s role to determine how much weight should be given conflicting opinions, or to make determinations on weaknesses or strengths of opposing experts’ opinions. Those determinations are to be made solely by a jury.
The appellate court overturned the trial court and sent the case back to the trial court so that a jury could determine the case.
This is one of those times when a court isn’t making new law, but reminding lower courts to abide by existing laws. It also is a win for homeowners, reinforcing the right to have their cases heard by a jury of their peers.
Make sure you are prepared to fight your insurance company if you are denied insurance benefits. Contact the Celeste Law Firm in West Palm Beach today for a consultation if you are being denied homeowners’ insurance benefits.