Traub Lieberman Partner Burks Smith and Associate Alex Zesch Obtain Summary Judgment For Major Insurer On Late-Reported Hurricane Appraisal Demand Lawsuit

Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry attorneys Burks Smith and Alex Zesch recently obtained summary judgment in a case pending before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami. The plaintiffs had sued Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company for breach of contract after Liberty Mutual declined a 2015 request to appraise a 2005 Hurricane Katrina loss.  On summary judgment, Liberty Mutual argued that Florida’s five-year statute of limitations for contract actions barred the suit and that the policy’s prompt notice condition precluded coverage. The plaintiff argued that the breach occurred in 2015, when Liberty Mutual refused to appraise, and relied on recent Florida case law to support this position. The Court agreed with Liberty Mutual’s distinction of that case law, including the fact that in the other case, the plaintiff had demanded appraisal within the limitations period. Holding otherwise, the Court explained, would allow insureds to “wait an indefinite amount of time, through many hurricanes and other disasters” and thwart the purpose of the statute of limitations. The Court also agreed with Liberty Mutual that the plaintiffs’ ten-year delay in asking for appraisal was late notice as a matter of law and that Liberty Mutual was prejudiced by the delay because the plaintiffs had testified that their home suffered damage during a different storm in 2013. The decision, Rodriguez v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 16-21926-CIV, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29519 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 2, 2017), could provide important support for carriers that are sued for refusing to re-open claims long after their initial investigations and payments.