Insurance Company Tries to Punish Homeowner for Acts of a Third Party
While a homeowners’ insurance case is going on, both sides have the right to know what evidence the other intends to produce at trial. However, in a recent case, an insurance company went too far, trying to punish a homeowner for something that neither he nor his attorneys had any control over.
Adjuster Fails to Appear for Deposition
In the case, the homeowners filed suit against their insurance company for repairs that were not conducted on their home. The insurance company claimed that it denied payment because it was refused the ability to conduct a timely investigation of the loss.
The homeowners listed a public adjuster on their witness list, which is a list that tells the other side the witnesses who will appear for trial. The insurance company sought to depose the witness (the public adjuster), but twice the public adjuster failed to attend.
This is where the case gets odd: The insurance company attempted to blame the homeowners for the adjuster’s failure to attend his deposition. The insurance company claimed that the homeowner had provided a faulty or inaccurate address to serve the witness with the notice of deposition.
The insurance company sought to depose the witness again just before trial. The court instructed the homeowner’s lawyers to provide a correct address for the public adjuster, and to tell the public adjuster that if he dodged the subpoena, the police would be called to arrest him.
The homeowner’s attorneys provided a different address for the public adjuster, and the insurance company tried to serve him there. But the insurance company could not serve the witness at a new address given to them by the homeowner’s attorneys. Eventually, when the public adjuster was served, he then failed to show up for two properly noticed depositions.
Insurance Company Asks for Sanctions
The insurance company asked the court to strike parts of the homeowner’s complaint, and called the public adjuster an “agent of the homeowners’ attorney’s firm.” The court granted the insurance company’s motion, agreeing that the public adjuster was an agent of the homeowner’s attorney’s law firm, and finding that the firm failed to assist the insurance company in deposing the public adjuster. Fees and costs were assessed against the homeowner, and eventually a judgement against the homeowner was entered.
Appellate Court Reverses Sanctions Order
The homeowner appealed. The appellate court noted that parties do have an obligation to comply with court orders and to conduct discovery. However, the public adjuster was not an expert witness or a corporate representative nor an employee of the law firm, and thus, the homeowner’s attorney did not have to produce the public adjuster for deposition. It was improper to punish the homeowner for failing to produce a third-party witness over whom the homeowner’s attorneys had no control.
Contact the West Palm Beach homeowners’ insurance attorneys at the Celeste Law Firm today for a consultation if you are having trouble when making claims for homeowners’ insurance benefits for any repair or damage on your property.