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Choose Slams Florida’s Common P&C for ‘Stonewalling’ Courtroom Orders, Calls for Solutions

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Common Property & Casualty Insurance coverage Co. officers have downplayed the importance of current Florida judges’ rulings which have slammed the corporate for violating courtroom orders, have compelled Common to default on lawsuits, have referred a Common lawyer for disciplinary motion, and required firm officers to clarify what’s happening.

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These courtroom orders are not any extra widespread than sanctions in opposition to policyholder attorneys and are largely the results of “the warfare”–the huge quantity of claims litigation and bad-faith actions introduced by plaintiffs’ legal professionals in Florida lately, which have burdened insurers with 1000’s of deposition and doc requests, Common’s authorized officers mentioned.

“Earlier than the warfare, a number of issues can be labored out between attorneys, by way of skilled courtesy,” mentioned Travis Miller, a prime lawyer for Common, considered one of Florida’s largest property insurance coverage carriers.

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One of many courtroom orders in opposition to Common got here in November in Nassau County. It went far past earlier sanctions orders and has raised eyebrows throughout the state, in keeping with policyholder legal professionals and a Florida legislation professor.

The circuit decide’s order, requiring Common’s common counsel to reply questions on company authorized practices, “is breathtaking, actually,” mentioned Robert Jarvis, a legislation professor at Nova Southeastern College in Fort Lauderdale.

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The motion by Nassau County Circuit Choose Eric Roberson is simply the tip of the iceberg, mentioned policyholder attorneys who’ve seen dozens of sanctions and different orders in opposition to Fort Lauderdale-based Common in the previous couple of years.

“In my 37 years of apply, I’ve by no means seen an insurance coverage firm exhibit such a contemptuous disregard for courtroom orders,” mentioned Matthew Danahy, of Tampa, a former insurance coverage lawyer who now represents policyholders in claims disputes and has obtained a number of courtroom orders in opposition to Common.

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Others have mentioned the alleged stonewalling practices are widespread amongst a number of Florida insurance coverage corporations and run the chance of incomes the Florida insurance coverage business one other black eye–particularly if the practices and sanctions are extensively reported in native information media, mentioned Jarvis.

A number of plaintiffs’ legal professionals counsel that Common’s staff of in-house and legislation agency attorneys seem like so overloaded that they will’t sustain with courtroom deadlines. Both that, or it’s a deliberate technique by the insurer to “put on out” plaintiffs, power settlements or delay payouts. In at the least one pleading, a Common lawyer blamed the missed deadline on his employees. Florida insurance coverage protection attorneys have mentioned that judges throughout the state try to clear away a backlog of circumstances that piled up through the COVID-19 shutdown, and have cracked down on missed deadlines.

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Regardless of the motive, incomes the anger of judges has proved considerably expensive for Common. Within the Nassau County case, Choose Roberson took the weird step of placing the pleading, forcing the insurer to default within the underlying claims lawsuit. The ultimate quantity to be paid is confidential, however the grievance requested for greater than $30,000.

The Common lawyer that Roberson referred for a Bar investigation, P. Alejandro Perez, didn’t return cellphone calls and emails from Insurance coverage Journal. A Bar official mentioned an investigation has been opened, however she declined to offer additional info.

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Roberson misplaced his persistence with Perez in a Fernandina Seashore couple’s claims dispute. One order got here in October when the decide sanctioned Common for “blatant discovery stonewalling” and failing to adjust to two earlier courtroom orders.

“The 2 prior instances apparently didn’t get the message by way of that discovery gamesmanship won’t be tolerated on this courtroom,” Roberson wrote.

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He fined Common $100 per day, as much as a most of $7,500, paid to the Florida Bar for efforts to advertise professionalism. Lower than three weeks later, Roberson discovered that Perez and Common had nonetheless not disclosed all required info by the courtroom’s deadline and Perez had displayed “a disturbing lack of candor to the courtroom.” The decide then barred Common’s knowledgeable witness and struck Common’s pleading.

“That is now, indisputably, probably the most egregious act of willfully defying courtroom orders {and professional} obligations that the courtroom has seen in its tenure,” Roberson wrote.

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The decide additionally ordered Common’s common counsel to a listening to Dec. 7 to offer solutions to questions on Common’s insurance policies and procedures on discovery requests, in addition to its authorized staffing, coaching, and supervision of the employees. A transcript of the listening to was not accessible.

Veterans of the Florida insurance coverage business have argued that property insurers within the final half-decade have confronted a flood of pointless claims lawsuits–a lot that litigation prices grew to become a key motive behind charge will increase and at the least 10 insurer insolvencies. The Florida Legislature responded in late 2022 and early 2023 with sweeping limits on litigation and plaintiffs’ lawyer charges.

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And simply earlier than the legislation took impact this 12 months, a number of policyholder legislation companies filed greater than 50,000 lawsuits, swamping insurance coverage companies and filling courtroom dockets, in keeping with attorneys concerned and information reviews.

Insurers needs to be forgiven for making errors or “combating again” whereas making an attempt to deal with an awesome variety of authorized actions, some within the business have mentioned. Others on the insurance coverage facet mentioned that it might be counterproductive for an insurance coverage provider to purposely flaunt judges’ orders as a option to put on down the opposite facet.

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“It’s not deliberate. That might be absurd,” mentioned Matt Lavinsky, president of the Florida Protection Legal professionals Affiliation. He added that he had by no means seen FDLA members interact in such techniques.

Common officers mentioned the fault lies partly with overzealous claimants’ legal professionals. So many requests for depositions of company representatives have led to a scheduling and logistical nightmare, which has led to missed deadlines, Universals’ legal professionals mentioned.

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And plaintiffs’ attorneys have been hit with simply as many, if no more, sanctions orders lately, some for misrepresenting the details or exaggerating the quantity of injury in declare–a serious violation within the eyes of most judges.

The plaintiffs’ legal professionals have introduced the current Common sanctions orders to the eye of the information media in an try to disparage insurers and gas a reversal of the 2022 and 2023 tort-reform laws, mentioned Lavisky.

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Members of the plaintiffs’ bar have mentioned there’s little probability of Florida’s lawmakers altering course anytime quickly. Danahy and Robert Jameson, the claimants’ lawyer within the Nassau County case, mentioned the alleged stonewalling practices have gone on for years, throughout the state, and have little to do with the current flood of claims fits. Danahy, Jameson and others supplied Insurance coverage Journal with greater than 40 judges’ orders since 2017, imposing sanctions on Common or demanding that its legal professionals adjust to courtroom orders.

“I’ve by no means heard of any defendant that has caught the eye of judges like this and has been sanctioned by so many judges,” mentioned Jarvis, the legislation professor.

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On authorized staffing ranges, Miller and Lewis famous that Common has about 250 attorneys, two-thirds of that are in-house. The provider at the moment has about 9,800 claims fits pending, or roughly 38 circumstances per lawyer. The Florida Bar mentioned it doesn’t have guidelines on a most variety of circumstances per lawyer. However in contrast with Residents Property Insurance coverage Corp., the biggest provider within the state, the variety of Common legal professionals appears low.

Residents has about 18 circumstances per lawyer for Residents, half the load carried by Common litigators.

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