By: Oliver B. Clark
The above-styled matter concerns Mary Iwanicki’s appeal to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal (Second DCA) of a final judgment, by way of directed verdict, entered in favor of Safepoint Insurance Company. The Second DCA reversed and remanded for a new trial.
Iwanicki sustained water damage to her home on January 2, 2018. She reported the loss to Safepoint, her homeowner’s insurance carrier, the following day. Safepoint subsequently sent Paul Davis Restoration to Iwanicki’s property to remediate the claimed damages. On January 16th, 29th, and 30th, 2018, Safepoint issued payments to Iwanicki and Paul Davis directly, totaling $14,950.34. Upon Safepoint’s request on or about February 2, 2018, Iwanicki submitted a Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss (SPOL) to Safepoint in the amount of $165,000.00. Safepoint received same on April 18, 2018. Iwanicki advised that this figure resulted from additional repair work that need be completed to the property to restore same to its pre-loss condition. Having received no response from Safepoint to her SPOL, twenty-one days following its submission, Iwanicki filed a two-count breach of contract action against Safepoint. Iwanicki’s first count alleged that Safepoint failed to fully indemnify Iwanicki’s covered losses in breach of the insurance contract; the second count claimed that Safepoint had exercised its policy option to repair the damage and had breached its resulting obligation to fully restore the subject dwelling to its pre-loss condition. Trial of the matter resulted in the entry of a directed verdict in favor of Safepoint.
On appeal, the Court examined whether it was appropriate for the trial court to have granted Safepoint’s Motion for Directed Verdict. It observed that t “[a] motion for directed verdict should be granted only where no view of the evidence, or inferences made therefrom, could support a verdict for the nonmoving party.” James v. City of Tampa, 193 So. 3d 1040, 1042 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (quoting Sims v. Cristinzio, 898 So. 2d 1004, 1005–06 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005)). Primarily in issue was the subject insurance contract’s loss-payment provision. At trial, and in response to Iwanicki’s first count, Safepoint argued that under this loss-payment provision it was entitled to ninety days to investigate Iwanicki’s claim and could not be in breach of the contract prior to the expiration of those ninety days. It contended that by filing suit only twenty-one days after submitting her sworn proof of loss, Iwanicki sued before a breach had occurred.
The Second DCA disagreed. The Court interpreted the insurance contract’s loss-payment provision as follows: “unlike subsections (a) and (b) of the loss-payment provision, the time prescribed in subsection (c) does not commence upon the filing of the sworn proof of loss, but rather when Safepoint “receive[d] notice of an initial, reopened, or supplemental property insurance claim.” Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Iwanicki, the Court reasoned, a jury could have found that Safepoint received notice of Iwanicki’s initial claim on January 3, 2018, that this gave Safepoint until April 3, 2018 to pay or deny the claim, and that Safepoint failed to do so. Therefore, the Court held, Iwanicki’s lawsuit was not premature.
As to Iwanicki’s second count, the Court ruled that the trial court also erred in granting a directed verdict, as the trial testimony on this issue created questions of fact that should have precluded a directed verdict. Specifically, questions emerged as to whether Safepoint had, in fact, exercised its option to repair and whether the Parties had made oral or course of dealing modifications to what was a new and separate “option to repair” contract. See Drew v. Mobile USA Ins. Co., 920 So. 2d 832, 835–36 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006) (explaining that when an insurer exercises its option to repair, a new contract is created that requires the insurer to restore the premises to substantially the same condition it was in prior to the loss).