Insurer Can Face Punitive Damages

Claim For Punitive Damages Authorized


On August 11, 2023, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal held that an insurer can face punitive damages stemming from its handling of a claim for Hurricane Matthew damages. Cook v. Florida Peninsula Ins. Co., 5D22-2334, 2023 WL 5156375 (Fla. 5th DCA Aug. 11, 2023).  The lawsuit for bad-faith was filed after the insured prevailed at trial on her Hurricane Matthew claim against Florida Peninsula Insurance Company. The bad-faith lawsuit included violations of Fla. Stat. 624.155 and Fla. Stat. 626.9541, and alleged that in the claim that involved water intrusion through doors and windows, the insurer removed the words “door” and “window” from its letter representing the terms of the insurance policy to suggest that there was no coverage for the claim.  The insured claimed that as a business practice, the insurer intentionally omitted policy language to mislead insureds and avoid paying claims, detailing three other similar claims where the insurer made similar misrepresentations. The Fifth District held that the following evidence was sufficient to support a claim that an insurer’s wrongful business practices support an award of punitive damages

The Fifth District reversed the trial court’s order denying the request to seek punitive damages, holding: “We conclude that there were reasonable inferences and sufficient circumstances submitted to plead intentional misconduct. The trial court was required to determine whether Appellant offered reasonable evidence of a misrepresentation, not whether the mistake was intentional. Within that framework, the trial court was required to view the record evidence and the proffer in the light most favorable to Appellant and accept it as true. The trial court erroneously made a factual determination at the pleading stage.” Cook v. Florida Peninsula Ins. Co. is believed to be the first Florida Appellate decision authorizing punitive damages in a first-party homeowners insurance claim.  As detailed in the opinion, such a claim for punitive damages can be sought when there is evidence that the wrongful claim handling was committed in three or more other similar claims.   A complete copy of the opinion can be accessed here

Matthew Struble of STRUBLE, P.A. has obtained many of the primary decisions setting forth the procedure for an insured to pursue a bad-faith claim against an insurer. Zaleski v. State Farm Florida Ins. Co., 315 So. 3d 7 (Fla. 4th DCA 2021) (establishing the validity of a CRN filed by STRUBLE, P.A.); Cooper v. Federated Nat’l Ins. Co., 285 So. 3d 1036 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019) (establishing jury instructions to be submitted in a bad-faith case).  The firm represents policyholders throughout the State of Florida, as well as other attorneys on a co-counsel basis, by handling the trials and appeals of insurance claims.  The following are examples of results obtained after STRUBLE, P.A. was hired as co-counsel: