The Johnson v. Omega Insurance case
In 2010, the firm represented Kathy Johnson in a case against her insurance company, Omega Insurance. Omega had denied her sinkhole claim under the premise that there was no significant damage to her home.
We hired another engineering firm who did more testing and found clear evidence of sinkhole activity. Thus, we moved forward with a lawsuit, and Omega Insurance shortly agreed to accept coverage and rescind its denial. Kathy Johnson signed a contract to begin repairing her home.
The question of lawyer fees
After this initial acceptance of Johnson’s claim, we further argued that Omega Insurance should bear the burden of paying our client’s attorney fees under the premise that Omega wrongfully denied her claim. Fortunately, the judge in Ocala agreed with our position and granted those fees.
Omega Insurance decided to appeal the decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. That court reversed the trial court and opined that Johnson is not entitled to fees because she didn’t prove that Omega Insurance acted “wrongfully” when they denied her claim and therefore did not deserve to be punished.
We appealed that ruling, and in a rare turn of events, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Lawsuits find themselves in this situation in less than 5% of Supreme Court cases, so we were granted the opportunity to do something important.
The final decision
The Supreme Court recently issued a 31-page opinion today finding in Johnson’s favor and re-affirming her entitlement to attorney fees paid by her insurance company. They wrote that incorrectly denying a homeowner’s claim is what triggers the insurance company to pay fees.
We do not need to go so far as to evaluate whether the insurance company was acting in bad faith. This law is important as an insured could not be expected to single-handedly take on a large insurance company by herself. They also expressed how a homeowner needs an expert lawyer and engineer to challenge the insurance company and both cost money.
The Supreme Court noted how Johnson, thorough our firm, did not present some frivolous claim but presented “cold hard facts” to support that Omega Insurance was wrong in denying her claim. The Court pointed out that Johnson did the right thing in how she proceeded with her claim and that it refused to punish her by making her foot the bill for her legal fees.
What this means for future claims
This is a huge victory, not just for our firm and Kathy Johnson, but all insureds throughout Florida. Local judges who were allowing insurance companies get away with too much were kept in check in this lawsuit.
The Supreme Court recognized where justice was not being served and did the right thing. This offers us hope for our clients against their huge insurance companies; we are not at their mercy, so long as we play by the book and argue with facts.