In 2010 my firm assumed representation of Kathy Johnson, an insured in Ocala with horrific damage to her home. Her claim was denied by Tower Hill (also named Omega Insurance). We hired another engineering firm who did more testing and found clear evidence of sinkhole activity. We moved forward with a lawsuit and shortly after being sued Tower Hill agreed to accept coverage and rescind its denial. Kathy Johnson signed a contract to begin repairing her home. We argued in front of the trial court judge that Tower Hill should bear the burden of paying Johnson’s attorney fees under the existing law. The judge in Ocala agreed exactly with our position and granted those fees. Tower Hill 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 Tower Hill acted “wrongfully” when it denied her claim and therefore did not deserve to be punished. We appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court who agreed to hear the case. Probably less than 5% of cases appealed to the Supreme Court are actually heard.
The Supreme Court issued a 31 one page opinion today finding in Johnson’s favor and re-affirming her entitlement to attorney fees paid by her insurance company. The Supreme Court wrote that incorrectly denying a homeowners 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. The Supreme Court expressed the importance of this law here in Florida and how 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 Tower Hill was wrong in denying her claim. The Court pointed out that Johnson did the right thing in how proceeded with her claim and that it refused to0 punish her by making her food the bill for her legal fees. This is a huge victory not just for our firm and Kathy Johnson but all insureds throughout Florida. Local judges were letting insurance companies get away with too much and the Supreme Court recognized that and wrangled them all back in.