April 7, 2021

Case Law Update: Jennifer Mezadieu v. Safepoint Insurance Company, Fla. 4th DCA, March 26, 2021 – Concealment or Fraud

Mezadieu (“Homeowner”) filed claim for a water leak on the second floor.  After investigation, SafePoint (“Insurance Company”) denied the claim as it determined the damages were consistent with constant or repeated seepage which occurred over a period of time.  Homeowner filed a breach of contract action and asserted in the Complaint, sworn Interrogatories, and deposition testimony that she sustained unpaid damages in the amount of $43,181.01 per the written estimate by her loss consultant.   The estimate sought damages for nearly every room in the house including the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  The court specifically noted a line-item for the replacement of kitchen cabinets.  When the Homeowner was questioned about line items during her deposition, the Homeowner testified that aside from the kitchen ceiling, the leak did not cause any other damage and the water remediation company did not do any work on the first floor.

The Insurance Company amended its answer to include an affirmative defense of “concealment or fraud” based on the policy and later moved for summary judgment based on that provision.  During the summary judgment hearing, the Homeowner’s attorney conceded that “(1) the Homeowner ‘has never said she did not agree with [the] sworn proof of loss;’ (2) the Homeowner adopted the estimate; and (3) the estimate should not have included $11,000 for damages to the kitchen[.]” The concessions established that the estimate contained material false statements as a matter of law. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Insurance Company after determining that the repair estimate prepared by the Homeowner’s loss consultant included material false statements.

Homeowner appealed, arguing that summary judgment was improper because she should not be punished for the estimate prepared by her loss consultant because she did not intentionally rely on the false statements contained therein. The Insurance Company argued that intentionality is not required, and the material false statements made in the estimate are attributable to the Homeowner because she adopted the estimate as her own statement in the Complaint, interrogatories, and deposition.  The court, relying on Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Johnson, held that a showing of intent is not required under the policy’s concealment or fraud provision. The court reasoned that if a ‘false statement’ included only intentionally false statements, the contract provision would be meaningless.

Authored by:
Andrea DeMichael
Attorney, Tallahassee