On July 1, 2021 SB 76 went into effect mandating major changes regarding property insurance litigation. The bill was the result of major property insurers in the State being inundated with first party property lawsuits. Florida has an unparalleled amount of property litigation nationwide, mostly due to the one-way fee statute (Fl. Stat. 627.428) and compounded by Hurricanes and prominent coastlines.
The new law, codified as Fl. Stat. 627.70152, changed the fee shifting in first party property cases, and established a scale based on the success of the Plaintiff in the suit.
In addition, the new law created Fl. Stat. 489.147, which sought to prohibit roofers from soliciting homeowners in person, in other words no more knocking on the door or leaving door hangers. However, some aspects of the advertising prohibition were struck down by Federal Judge Mark E. Walker in Gale Force Roofing v. Brown , 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128700, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2021 WL 3046800. Judge Walker enjoined the State from enforcing 489.147 2(a); 3; and 4(b).
SB 76 also created 627.70153, requiring that a party notify the Court when other related claims for a particular property are already in suit. That same statute outlines a procedure to consolidate the related cases in Circuit Court. This may help alleviate concerns regarding multiple lawsuits from insureds and vendors regarding the same claim. Currently, this multi-lawsuit practice is draining judicial resources and causing duplicative fees and costs to insurers in the State. As it stands, one insurance claim often results four or five separate lawsuits against the insurance company.
Notably, SB 76 creates a notice requirement. Under the new law, an Insured or Claimant must provide the carrier with a 10 day “Notice of Intent to Litigate” demand letter. This is a condition precedent to suit. The carrier must then respond with an offer (or decline payment). The Plaintiff must obtain at least 50% of the disputed amount of the claim to be entitled to 100% of his/her attorneys fees and costs.
As to Hurricane claims, the new law shortened the statutory notice to two years from landfall; however, Insureds will still have three years from landfall to file supplemental claims.
There are pending questions as the post July 1, 2021 lawsuits begin litigation. Some carriers are moving to dismiss lawsuits that fail to comply with the new notice requirements. On the other hand, a handful of Plaintiff’s attorneys across the State are refusing to comply when the subject policy was issued prior to July 1, 2021, citing anti-retroactivity case law. We will be advocating for our clients and look forward to updating soon on this new issue.