In the past ten years or so sinkhole cases very rarely went to trial. They are extremely risky for insurance companies since they have to pay attorney fees, costs and interest if they lose and unless you are Citizens could face bad faith damages as well. For an insurance company to lose a trial it could cost them around $300,000 in extra expenses not including what it takes to repair the house. Trials were something homeowners typically wanted to avoid as well. Usually homeowners are risk-adverse and by the time most cases got to trial, homeowners were already offered some money to settle. If you were a homeowner, taking guaranteed money seemed like the best option. The times have changed drastically. I lost count but I believe there were close to 15 sinkhole trials in 2012 and a couple have already gone forward in 2013 and we are only in January. It’s likely a combination of several factors from both sides. Insurance companies have seriously out their foot down on settlements and some like Citizens and Tower Hill are literally daring lawyers to take their cases to trial. Now, it is not uncommon for these cases to settle right before trial either. Sometimes the threat of trial is a bluff and sometimes it is not. Homeowners are also fed up and many have completely lost their fear of going to trial. We are seeing a new breed of insureds that are willing to stand up and fight as long as it takes and are willing to accept the all or nothing options. The combination of both sides becoming more aggressive is trials, lots of trials. Personally, our firm loves it. Our firm enjoys trial. This is what we went to law school for anyways isn’t it? Not going to trial is like being the backup quarterback for the Bucs. Sure you can make a living but no one will ever truly respect you. I have always said that the best quality a lawyer can have is the ability to properly evaluate the value of a case. If you can do that you ensure you never settle for cheap and you never try a bad case. Now, just because you are smart in which cases you take to trial does not mean you will win them all. A homeowner who is not afraid to lose is the most dangerous thing to an insurance company. We are proud of the homeowners who have decided to take the risk of trial the past year and also of the law firms that have not backed down from the insurance companies and taken their cases to trial. We have to keep it up because it is clear the insurance carriers are not backing down.
January 30, 2013 by Morgan Barfield