Insureds’ Entitlement to Attorney’s Fees Resolved – Win at the Fourth District Court of Appeal

Rahabi v. FIGA
Case No. 4D10-846*

The issue on appeal was whether our clients were entitled to an award of attorney’s fees because FIGA affirmatively denied our clients’ claim under the insurance policy prior to paying the appraisal award.

Our clients’ roof was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Our clients sought coverage under the insurance policy to repair their roof. FIGA took over our clients’ insurance policy with Atlantic Preferred. In 2007, our clients filed a complaint and, initially, FIGA moved for dismissal. Later, FIGA filed an answer with affirmative defenses, and, after several months of discovery, FIGA decided to send the dispute for appraisal. An appraisal award was issued to our clients and FIGA paid the appraisal award. Our clients requested an award of attorney’s fees and costs from the trial court. The trial court denied the request reasoning that FIGA never affirmatively denied coverage of our clients’ claim. Our clients appealed arguing that FIGA affirmatively denied their claim by its actions.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed. The court held that FIGA affirmatively denied our clients’ claim by asserting, in several of its affirmative defenses that our clients’ damages “were not caused by a covered loss.” The court disagreed with FIGA’s argument that its actions amounted to no more than a delay in payment of the claim. The court distinguished our clients’ decision from its recent decision in Ehrlich in which it held that FIGA did not affirmatively deny the party’s claim by filing its affirmative defenses because it was forced to file the pleading by a court order and sought an extension of time to complete its investigation. The court held that, in our clients’ case, FIGA neither sought an extension to complete its investigation nor had a court order compelling it to file a responsive pleading. The Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded with instructions that the trial court set an evidentiary hearing to determine our clients’ reasonable sum of fees and to determine whether our clients were entitled to a reimbursement of their costs.

* The Mandate has yet to be issued.