Most residential property policies provide for an “appraisal” as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism when the insurer concedes coverage for a loss in whole or part, but the amount of the loss is disputed. The resulting appraisal award is binding on the parties absent certain limited grounds for challenging the award or the insurer’s obligation to pay it in full. Once issued, absent any cognizable challenge, an insurer must timely pay the award—often within 30 days by contract—subject to any applicable sub-limits, deductibles, or other policy limitations. Florida law has long held that where an insured is forced to file suit to compel appraisal or recover policy benefits and an appraisal later ensues, an insurer’s payment of the resulting appraisal award operates as a “confession of judgment”—the functional equivalent of a judgment in the insured’s favor sufficient to trigger the insured’s entitlement to attorneys’ fees and costs as the prevailing party under Sections 627.428 (for admitted insurers) or 626.9373 (for surplus lines insurers) of the Florida Statutes. Bryant v. GeoVera Specialty Ins. Co., 271 So. 3d 1013, 1019-20 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019); Jerkins v. USF & G Specialty Ins. Co., 982 So. 2d 15, 17-18 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Goff v. State Farm Florida Ins. Co., 999 So. 2d 684, 688 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008); Velez v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., No. 9:17-CV-81310, 2019 WL 7837204, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 2, 2019).
Historical lack of clarity and the source of confusion
Until recently, however, insureds had little guidance from Florida courts as to whether an insurer’s payment of an appraisal award also triggered Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.525’s thirty-day deadline to file a motion for fees and costs, or whether the insured was first required to move for and await the entry of an actual final judgment. The lack of clarity stems from Rule 1.525’s triggering mechanism: resembling Section 627.428 in requiring the “filing of [a] judgment, including a judgment of dismissal, or the service of a notice of voluntary dismissal” but with the additional requirement that such judgment or notice “conclude the action as to that party.”Continue Reading Florida: the time to move for attorney’s fees post-appraisal