Almost 35 years ago I began my legal career by representing insurance companies and other large corporations. I did so for over 16 years and learned a lot of lessons along the way. One thing I learned is that, sadly, many insurance companies are happy to take our premiums but stonewall when it comes time to fulfill their end of the bargain. Big Insurance knows that many will not have the patience or resources to hold their feet to the fire. A recent case the Firm tried proves that persistence pays off.
We recently won a jury verdict following a five-day trial. The verdict established insurance coverage for a 2011 car accident involving our client.
It was a long, hard-fought battle, and the insurance company stonewalled every step of the way. I began representing this deserving client six years ago. The client was involved in an accident, and the other driver accused him of causing it. Instead of either settling or defending the claim, the insurance company did neither. They claimed our client failed to cooperate with them – not true – and denied him coverage. Left without a defense, our client suffered Judgments against him that now exceed $2.6 million.
When the client retained us, it was too late for me to do anything about the Judgments. They had been entered over a year before. He tried to resolve things with the insurance company, but this quickly proved to be futile. The lawsuit that followed involved thousands of pages of documents, many court hearings, and depositions both in Florida and out of state. The case finally came to trial in March 2017.
After a five-day trial, the jury found that our client did not commit fraud (another bogus defense raised by the insurance company, without any proof whatsoever) but found in favor of the insurer on the breach of cooperation issue. We knew the breach of cooperation verdict was fatally flawed, though. The insurance company convinced the Judge to instruct the jury on a standard that made it virtually impossible for us to prevail. The jury instructions were contrary to decades of established Florida case law.
Accordingly, we refused to give up. We retained appellate counsel and challenged the jury instructions given. We won our appeal before Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal. The insurance company refused to concede and sought review before Florida’s Supreme Court. After a delay of many months, the review was denied, and we were given another opportunity to try the case with fair jury instructions. The second trial concluded in our favor.
Given its prior course of conduct, we are sure the insurance company will appeal, even though we believe there is no legitimate basis to do so. We are also sure that we will continue to fight. We have a very deserving client, and we know we are right.
Thankfully, the tortured path of this case is unusual. Most cases we handle can be resolved or tried relatively quickly. I am so proud of our efforts on behalf of this deserving client.
This blog is by Firm Partner Mickey Smith.