The Supreme Court today ruled that a trial court erred in permitting a defense attorney to argue an insured had a duty to prove sinkhole activity was the case of the damage. In a case styled Universal Insurance Company of North America v. Warfel, the Supreme Court ruled that the insurance company was responsible to disprove the presence of sinkhole activity. At the trial court level, the defense attorney argued that the jury should "presume" the findings of the insurance company engineer to be correct. This argument arose from language adopted by the State in the changes to the law in 2005. Although this interpretation flew in the face of decades of legal precedent, the court permitted the defense attorney to make this argument based upon the limited statement contained in the statute. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that while the statute stated that the findings were to be deemed "correct," this was for purposes of claim evaluation and nothing more. This presumption would essentially "burst" once the case proceeded to trial.
Consumer advocates had argued that to permit such a finding would encourage incomplete or shoddy work by consulting engineers, who could look to the statement in the statute to protect their insurance clients from allegations of bad faith. For your convenience, a copy of the opinion is available here.
Great work to the lawyers involved. TC