State-Created Insurer’s Civil Immunity Does Not Necessarily Preclude Actions Against it for Bad Faith
A recent case out of the First DCA has certified a conflict with the Fifth DCA over an issue very important for Florida property owners. The question that gave rise to the conflict is whether Citizens’ insured can bring a lawsuit against it for failure to settle a claim in good faith. In Perdido Sun Condominium Association, Inc., v. Citizens Property Ins. Corp., No. 1D13-1951 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), the court reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of Perdido’s complaint and found that Citizens is not immune from actions alleging bad faith that constitute a willful tort.
The association for the Perdido Sun Condominium filed a claim with Citizens after its property was damaged by a hurricane in 2004. The Association, not satisfied with the payment amount, filed a breach of contract action to recover additional sums under the insurance contract. Upon prevailing on its breach of contract suit, the Association filed a statutory “bad faith” claim pursuant to § 624.155(1)(b)1., Florida Statutes. The circuit court agreed with Citizens and dismissed the Association’s complaint on the basis that Citizens is immune from such an action pursuant to § 627.351(6)(s)1, Florida Statutes. which provides:
(s)1. There shall be no liability on the part of, and no cause of action of any nature shall arise against, the corporation or its agents or employees, for any action taken by them in the performance of their duties or responsibilities under this subsection. Such immunity does not apply to: (a) Any of the foregoing persons or entities for any willful tort; (b) The corporation or its producing agents for breach of any contract or agreement pertaining to insurance coverage. .
At the appellate level the first DCA was not persuaded by Citizens’ position and eventually sided with the Association. Perdido’s argument remained that Citizens acted in bad faith as described in § 624.155(1)(b)1, and that those actions amounted to a “willful tort” which is an exemption to Citizens’ civil immunity as noted above. In classic fashion, Citizens rebutted that the statutory language regarding its immunity must be strictly construed and because there is no mention of a bad faith claim under the exceptions to its immunity no such action could be brought against it. While Citizens is afforded special treatment for an insurance carrier because it is a government entity, the First DCA was not inclined to agree that it was immune from bad faith actions under any circumstances.
This issue is yet to be settled as the First DCA has certified conflict with Citizens Property Ins. Corp. v. Garfinkel, 25 So. 3d 62 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009), a decision by the Fifth DCA; however the First DCA’s opinion is a clear move towards affording Citizens’ insureds greater protection from unfair claims settlement practices.
How We Can Help
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed civil law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to pursue your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.