August 28, 2023

Kelley Kronenberg Defeats Plaintiff’s Appeal in Late-Reported Hurricane Irma Case

In our latest legal victory, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision to grant Summary Judgment in favor of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. The decision was rooted in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s pre- and post-loss evidence in addition to the disqualification of their expert witness, following a successful Daubert objection raised by Citizens. A special commendation goes to Kimberly Fernandes, the partner leading Kelley Kronenberg’s appellate department, for successfully defending this case. Her profound legal knowledge and meticulous attention to detail were crucial factors in achieving this victory.  

The case revolved around a late-reported Hurricane Irma claim. The homeowners entered into an agreement with the plaintiff, a company specializing in water damage mitigation services. In response, Citizens rejected the insurance claim, centering the denial around the discovery that the property’s interior damage resulted from rain leaking into the house over an extended period due to wear and tear that had corroded the roof, conditions not covered by the policy. Significantly, no attempts to safeguard the property were evident.  

The plaintiff’s evidence—a pre-loss inspection report and post-loss photographic proof—was ruled as hearsay and subsequently excluded by the trial judge. Moreover, the expertise of the plaintiff’s witness fell short of the Daubert standard and was dismissed for providing speculative views. With such evidence dismissed, the trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of Citizens due to the absence of material fact disputes and an entitlement to summary judgment according to the standard legal framework. 

Dissatisfied with the outcome, the plaintiff appealed the summary judgment, voicing discontent over the trial judge’s exclusion of their evidentiary material. On the other hand, Citizens staunchly upheld the trial judge’s articulation of the Daubert standard, the hearsay rule, and summary judgment standard. Based on the well-crafted arguments of Ms. Fernandes, the Third District Court of Appeal endorsed the trial judge’s warrant for summary judgment, refraining from publishing an opinion. 

The real financial stakes were highlighted by the plaintiff’s claim for over $6,000 in mitigation services, attorney‘s fees and costs; while the homeowners had claimed for more than $50,000 in total damages to their property resulting from this claim.  

A special thanks to Citizens Property Insurance for having faith in us to represent them in this appeal. 

The Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order granting Summary Judgment to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation based upon a rejection of the plaintiff’s pre-loss and post-loss evidence and the striking of the plaintiff’s expert witness pursuant to Citizens’ Daubert objection. 

This is a late-reported Hurricane Irma claim. The homeowners executed an assignment of benefits with the plaintiff company to perform mitigation services for water damage inside the house. Citizens denied coverage for the claim, finding the interior damage was caused by rain entering the house over an extended period of time with no efforts made to protect the property, and the rain entered the house through the roof, which was compromised by wear, tear, and deterioration, which are not covered by the insurance policy. The trial judge excluded a pre-loss inspection report submitted by the plaintiff as hearsay. The trial judge also excluded post-loss photographs submitted by the plaintiff as hearsay. Finally, the trial judge excluded the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness under the Daubert standard and as speculative opinions. Based upon these exclusions, summary judgment was granted in favor of Citizens based upon no issues of material fact and entitlement to summary judgment as a matter of law. 

The plaintiff mitigation vendor appealed the summary judgment, arguing that the trial judge erred in excluding their submitted evidence. Citizens defended the trial judge’s decisions under the Daubert standard, the hearsay rule, and the summary judgment standard. The Third DCA affirmed the trial judge’s summary judgment without authoring an opinion. 

Plaintiff was claiming more than $6,000 in mitigation services and the homeowners were claiming more than $50,000 in total damages to their property based upon this claim. 

Thank you to Citizens Property Insurance for trusting us with this appeal.