I harp on notifying a liability insurer in writing once a claim is asserted against you. As soon as possible. I harp on this because as an insured you want to remove any doubt or argument that the insurer was prejudiced due to a lack of timely notice.
In a recent opinion, Zurich American Insurance Co. v. European Tile and Floors, Inc., 2017 WL 2427172 (M.D.Fla. 2017), the insurer moved for summary judgment in a coverage action arguing that its insured failed to provide it timely written notice. Specifically, the insurer argued that the insured violated the clause in the liability policy that states:
2. Duties in the Event of Occurrence, Offense, Claim or Suit
b. If a claim is made or “suit” is brought against any insured, you must:
1. Immediately record the specifics of the claim or “suit” and the date received; and
2. Notify us as soon as practicable.
You must see to it that we receive written notice of the claim or “suit” as soon as practicable.
c. You and any other insured must:
1. Immediately send us copies of any demands, notices, summonses or legal papers received in connection with the claim or “suit”;
2. Authorize us to obtain records and other information;
3. Cooperate with us in the investigation, settlement or defense of the claim or “suit”; and
4. Assist us, upon our request, in the enforcement of any right against any person or organization which may be liable to the insured because of injury or damage to which this insurance may also apply.
Here, the insured claimed it orally called the insurer about the nature of the suit and a representative told it that there would be no coverage for the lawsuit. The insurer, however, claimed it has no record of such a call and only learned of the lawsuit after a judgment had already been entered against the insured. Particularly, a seven-figure judgment was entered against the insured and the judgment creditor then sued the insurer which prompted the insurer to file a coverage lawsuit.
The insurer argued that there should be no coverage because the insured violated the clause regarding being provided timely written notice of the lawsuit. An insured can forfeit otherwise valid coverage by failing to provide timely notice to the prejudice of the insurer.
Under Florida law, if an insured’s notice is untimely, a presumption of prejudice arises. European Tile and Floors, supra, at *5. The insured can only prevail if it rebuts the presumption of prejudice by demonstrating with competent evidence that the insurer was not prejudiced by the untimely notice. Id. However, although the policy required written notice, this requirement can be waived when the insurer has actual notice of the claim. Id.
In this case, the Middle District denied the insurer’s motion for summary judgment because there was a material fact dispute as to whether the insured provided notice of the lawsuit to the insurer—the insured claims it did so through an oral call which the insurer disputes.
The insurer also moved for summary judgment arguing the insured failed to cooperate with it. An insurer may deny coverage for an insured’s failure to cooperate when “(1) the lack of cooperation was material, (2) the insurer exercised diligence and good faith in bringing about the cooperation of its insured and itself complied in good faith with the terms of the policy and (3) the lack of cooperation substantially prejudiced the insurer.” European Tile and Floors, supra, at *6 quoting Mid-Continent Cas. Co. v. Basdeo, 477 Fed.Appx. 702, 706-07 (11th Cir. 2012).
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