Florida Supreme Court Releases Clarifying Opinion on Insurance Claims Involving Multiple Causes of Loss
Most property insurance policies offer coverage for some, but not all causes of loss. Indeed, in many cases, policies will explicitly exclude coverage for certain causes of damage. For example, you may have a homeowner’s insurance policy that offers coverage for wind damage but no coverage for damage caused by a flood. Of course, the cause of the damage is not always clear. In some cases, multiple different events will be responsible for the property damage. What happens when two or more concurrent events cause property damage, but one of those causes is excluded under the policy: Is there coverage for the homeowner? That was the issue that was recently dealt with by the Supreme Court of Florida. In the case of Sebo v. American Home Assurance Company, Inc., the Florida Supreme court resolved a concurrent cause of loss case in favor of the homeowner.
Understanding Why The Supreme Court Rules in Favor of the Insured Party
John Sebo first purchased his home back in 2005. At that time, he also purchased a standard homeowner’s insurance policy from American Home Assurance Company. Soon after the purchase, it became clear to Mr. Sebo that his home suffered from serious construction defects. This problem caused his home to flood easily during heavy rainstorms. When Hurricane Wilma hit the state in October of 2005, Mr Sebo’s home suffered major damage. Upon review of his claim, it was determined that the property damage had three different causes:
- Rain; and
- The defective construction.
The Appeals Court Rules Against the Homeowner
Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals ruled against Mr. Sebo. In its decision, the Second District Court applied the effective proximate cause doctrine to this case. Under that doctrine, the actual “cause” of the damage is the cause that set the others in motion. In other words, the effective proximate cause doctrine views causes of damage similar to dominoes. While rain and wind (covered losses) were the direct trigger for Mr. Sebo’s home damages, they were only able to cause the damage because of the defective construction (not a covered loss). The court reasoned that without that initial domino, the defective construction, the home damage would have been prevented.
The Supreme Court Overturns the Lower Court
Upon review of the claim, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the Second District’s decision. Citing the case of Wallach v. Rosenberg, the Supreme Court determined that the lower court had incorrectly applied the efficient proximate cause doctrine. Instead, the appropriate way to assess this case was under the concurrent causation doctrine. Concurrent cause is supposed to be applied when there are multiple causes of damage and no one cause can be definitively determined to be the sole true cause of the damage. The court reasoned that the rain and wind that came with Hurricane Wilma could not truly be separated out from the construction defect.
Contact Our Office Today
At Geyer Fuxa Tyler, our dedicated property insurance dispute attorneys have helped many homeowners recover full and fair compensation for their damages. We have experience handling complex claims, including concurrent causation cases. If your claim has been partially or fully denied, please contact our office today to set up a free review of your case. We proudly serve property owners throughout Broward County, including in Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs and Sunrise.