Attorneys Fees Award Upheld in the Fourth DCA

The appellate attorneys of the Powell Law Firm’s Miami office recently won an appeal in the Fourth District Court of Appeals, establishing that an award of attorneys fees in a dispute between an insured and his insurer is appropriate under certain circumstances even when the insured receives his compensation though the appraisal process rather than through court action.

In State Farm Insurance v. Ulrich,  case no. 4D10-2180, the Miami appellate attorneys of the Powell Law firm, in conjunction with attorney P. Brandon Perkins of the firm’sFort Myers office, successfully represented the insureds in a dispute over the extent of coverage provided by the insureds’ windstorm insurance policy.  The insureds had sought coverage for repairs to their roof, which the insureds claimed were needed as the result of hurricane damage. The insurer argued that the homeowners’ policy in question provided coverage for only a portion of the insureds’ roof, taking the position that the reminder of the damage was caused by another source.  Thus, the insurer invoked the appraisal process afforded by the policy.

Rather than voluntarily submitting to the appraisal process, the insureds filed suit against the insurer.  The trial court abated the suit, and allowed the appraisal to continue.   Ultimately, the appraisal resulted in an award to the insureds which included compensation for repairs to the portions of the roof that the insurer claimed were not covered.  The insurer opted not to challenge the appraisal award and paid the full scope of damages awarded through the appraisal process; including those damages which the insured initially argued were not covered.

The insureds then moved the court to affirm the appraisal award and award costs and attorney’s fees.  The trial court denied the insureds’ motion to confirm the award, but nevertheless awarded the insureds’ counsel his fees.

The insurer appealed, arguing that because the appraisal process resolved the dispute and the trial court denied the insureds’ motion to affirm the appraisal award, no judicial action was necessary in order for the plaintiff to recover.  The Powell Law Firm represented the insureds, arguing that, under Travelers Indem. Ins. Co. of Illinois v. Meadows MRI, LLP, 900 So. 2d 676, 679 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), et. al., the litigation was necessary to force the insurer to reconsider the insureds’ damages, and therefore the attorney’s fees award was proper.  The Powell Law Firm argued that, because filing suit caused the insurer to reverse its position that a portion of the claimed damages were not covered, filing suit served a legitimate purpose even though they recovery was ultimately obtained through the appraisal process. In addition, the attorneys at the Powell Law Firm contended that, because the dispute was over coverage of the claim rather than its valuation, appraisal was not appropriate under the policy and was therefore the subject of judicial determination, again justifying the insureds’ decision the file suit. 

Ultimately, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and awarded not only the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees, but awarded appellate fees as well.

The Powell Law Firm, P.A. has offices in Miami, Fort Myers and Key West and is experienced in handling first party coverage disputes at both the trial and appellate level.