This office has been handling a travesty of a case for several years now. The factual scenario is that an insured who does not speak, read or write English was provided a Citizens policy after she was told it contained sinkhole coverage. Of course, not being able to read the policy she assumed she did have coverage as she was told. As a side note, Citizens does not offer any forms other than in English. This places a huge emphasis on the importance of the insurance agents selling these policies as the homeowners have to rely on their word when purchasing coverage.
Some time later, the homeowner reported a potential sinkhole claim. Citizens investigated it, took the examinations of her and three of her family members, did a full geotechnical investigation and eventually even paid her a sum of money to begin the cosmetic repairs to her home. For eighteen months Citizens told her she had coverage for sinkhole activity and at every stage represented to her she would be ok. Eighteen months later, Citizens for the first time, advised her that she actually did not have coverage under her policy and demanded the cosmetic money back. Money she had already spent to fix her house.
The real issue here is that under Florida law when you have a confirmed sinkhole, the report is filed with the county property appraiser office to avoid any potential fraud. So this lady has a publicly known confirmed and un-repaired sinkhole at her house. She does not have the money to repair it and it has lost approximately 80% of its market value. What does Citizens do? They walk away and when we bring a lawsuit, they not only offer nothing to compensate her, they sue her for the money back they paid her previously.
This case was set for trial this Monday morning and due to Citizens procedural posturing it had to be continued to a later date just before the jury was ready to be selected. The real headline of this story is that Citizens openly admitted they made a mistake, the damage to my client is as clear as can be and Citizens response to the judge was that it is protected from having to pay this lady anything because the State of Florida provides Citizens immunity from bad faith or punitive damages. This issue has to be addressed by the State and our court system. Citizens is an insurance company and a corporation. It should be allowed to simply get away with everything. There will undoubtedly be much more to come on this case as it appears to be postured for several more years of litigation and appeals. Citizens has refused to back down and neither will we. Its the right thing to do.