Following more than two years of protracted litigation, Ted Corless and Morgan Barfield head to trial against Tower Hill Select Insurance Company in Marion County, Florida. The Ocala residents Matt and Cindy Villella filed a sinkhole claim on their policy for damage to their home and garage in 2008. Although Tower Hill's engineering firm BCI Engineering confirmed the presence of sinkhole activity at the home as the cause of the damage in June 2009, Tower Hill spent nearly 2 years deciding whether to pay the claim. After retaining Corless and Barfield, Tower Hill elected to pay the claim, but refused to pay the costs to stabilize the home consistent with the Insureds professional engineer. Later, after months of delays, Tower Hill agreed to pay a portion of the amount due, but only if the Insureds agreed to a cut down version of the repairs by an engineering firm who works almost exclusively for insurance companies on such claims.
Today, in Marion County, Florida, in a case styled Glenn and Kimberly Trabing v. Tower Hill Select Insurance Company, Circuit Judge Frances King denied the most recent attempts by Tower Hill Select Insurance Company to force an insured to enter into a contract before payment for subsurface repairs will be paid. Although the Insurance Policy indicates Tower Hill may withhold coverage for subsurface repairs (e.g. grouting and underpinning) until these repairs are commenced, Ted Corless argued the language did not apply to the facts of the subject claim. The Court agreed with Corless and granted his motion for entry of final judgment. A comprehensive "bad faith" suit is now underway and will be filed by the end of this week.
Tower Hill Preferred Insurance Company had taken a back seat (perhaps the trunk) to most other insurance companies who fought the good fight on sinkhole lawsuits. Prior to the two cases it has tried this year, I am not aware of any case where they actually went in front of a jury. Since the year began, Tower Hill has taken two cases to trial, and has lost another. This one was in Polk County, as opposed to last January, where the case was pending in Hernando County. By most Florida sinkhole maps, both counties are prone to both sinkhole claims and sinkhole lawsuits.
This is the second blog post following yesterday associated with the issue of dealing with lawyers and how their business practices can impact the outcome of a case.