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Florida Supreme Court Rules “Ambiguous Term” Must Be Construed in Favor of Coverage

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On July 13th, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) v. Alysia M. Macedo. This lawsuit involved a dispute over ambiguous insurance policy language. In this post, our experienced Fort Lauderdale property insurance litigation attorneys analyze the case and discuss what it can teach policyholders about how Florida courts handle ambiguous terms.

Case Analysis  

The Background 

In 2012, Alysia Macedo was injured in an auto accident with a driver who carried a GEICO insurance policy. Eventually, after settlement negotiations broke down, a lawsuit was filed, which the insurance company defended. Upon decision by a trial court, Ms. Macedo was granted an award of $172,965.91 for her injuries and legal costs. Much of this award was for the attorneys’ fees that Ms. Macedo incurred in association with litigating the claim.

GEICO Appeals, Arguing that the Policy Does Not Cover Attorneys’ Fees 

The GEICO policy at issue in this case provided coverage for “other reasonable costs and expenses”. Indeed, in this section of the policy, a clause expressly provides coverage for “court costs and related legal fees”. However, GEICO argued before the court the opposing party’s attorneys’ fees were not meant to be included in the term “related legal fees”. As such, the insurer contended that no award should be granted against the policy for Ms. Macedo’s attorneys’ fees.

The Supreme Court Explains How Insurance Ambiguities Should Be Handled in Florida 

The first thing the Supreme Court noted was that there was inherent ambiguity over whether or not this policy was meant to provide coverage for the opposing party’s attorneys’ fees. Specifically, the court stated that there are multiple reasonable interpretations of the language used in this policy. Citing the 2015 case of Geico Gen. Ins. Co. v. Hollingsworth, the court then ruled against GEICO on the grounds that insurance policy ambiguities must always be construed in favor of coverage.  

Ambiguous Terms: The Insurance Company Does Not Get the Last Word

This case provides an important lesson for property insurance policyholders. Should there be multiple reasonable interpretations of your policy, then the insurance company is required to follow the interpretation that would be most favorable to providing coverage for you. If you believe that the policy grants your coverage for your property damage, but your insurance company is interpreting the policy in another way, please contact a qualified lawyer who can review your claim. If your interpretation of the ambiguous language is reasonable, then you are entitled to coverage under the policy.

Was Your Property Insurance Claim Denied? 

We can help. At Geyer Fuxa Tyler, our Fort Lauderdale property insurance lawyers have extensive experience litigating claims involving ambiguous policy language. To schedule your free, no obligation case evaluation, please get in touch with our firm today. We proudly represent property owners all around Broward County, including in Sunrise, Deerfield Beach, Miramar, Hollywood, Coconut Creek, Pembroke Pines, and North Lauderdale.

Resource:

floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2017/sc16-935.pdf

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