Florida Supreme Court awards attorney fees to homeowner

Late last month, the Florida Supreme Court struck a blow for homeowners across the state. The court held that a woman who lives less than two hours north of Tampa is to be awarded attorneys’ fees after she was improperly denied homeowner insurance benefits.

She had filed an insurance claim after a sinkhole damaged her home back in early 2010. Her policy included sinkhole coverage, but her claim was denied anyway by the insurer.

After the Marion County woman filed her claim, the insurance company hired a consulting firm to conduct a sinkhole investigation. While the consultant agreed that there was damage to the home, it said the causes of the damage were not covered by the homeowners’ policy.

The woman then got an insurance claims attorney who also retained a consulting firm to look at the sinkhole. That firm concluded that the damage to the house was from the sinkhole.

The insurer then requested a neutral evaluation of the property and damage. The neutral evaluator came to the conclusion that a sinkhole was present and was the cause of the damage to the house.

At this point, the insurer conceded that the sinkhole had indeed caused the damage and sent the woman a check for damages. When the woman asked for her attorneys’ fees to be covered as well — costs she had incurred because of the benefits denial — the insurer again declined to pay.

The case then wound through a trial court, appellate court and finally, the Florida Supreme Court. The high court came down on the policyholder’s side, holding that the policyholder filed an action because the insurer had incorrectly denied benefits and that those facts warrant the awarding of fees for her insurance claims lawyer.