A liability insurer has two duties that are the crux of a liability policy: the duty to defend the insured in legal actions and the duty to indemnify the insured from losses covered under the policy. Many times, policyholders (insureds) do not fully understand or appreciate these two important duties. They need to and this is why having private counsel assist with coverage-related considerations is an absolute must.
An insurers’ duty to defend is separate from its duty to indemnify. A recent opinion out of the Middle District of Florida in Progressive Express Ins. Co. v. Tate Transport Corp., 2022 WL 16963815 (M.D.Fla. 2022) clarifies the distinction between these duties with a focus on an insurer’s initial duty — the duty to defend. Please read below so you can have more of an appreciation of these duties. The court does a good job discussing Florida law with the emphasis on when an insurer’s initial duty to defend kicks-in:
Duty to Defend
Under Florida law, “an insurer’s duty to defend its insured against a legal action arises when the complaint alleges facts that fairly and potentially bring the suit within policy coverage.” The duty to defend is a broad one, broader than the duty to indemnify, and “[t]he merits of the underlying suit are irrelevant.” We determine whether an insurer has a duty to defend its insured based only on “the eight corners of the complaint and the policy,” and only as the complaint’s alleged facts are “fairly read[.]” The “facts” we consider in evaluating the duty to defend come solely from the complaint, regardless of the actual facts of the case and regardless of any later developed and contradictory factual record. “Any doubts regarding the duty to defend must be resolved in favor of the insured,” and “where a complaint alleges facts that are partially within and partially outside the coverage of an insured’s policy, the insurer is not only obligated to defend, but must defend that entire suit[.]” But of course, because the lawsuit must be for something covered by the insurance policy, “the insurer has no duty to defend” when “the pleadings show the applicability of a policy exclusion.”
An insurance policy can, without creating a conflict or ambiguity, both provide coverage and exclude some things that might otherwise fall within that coverage. On the other hand, an insurance policy’s coverage becomes illusory if it grants coverage in one provision and completely takes it away in another provision.
Because [insurer] relies on an exclusion to deny coverage, “it has the burden of demonstrating that the allegations of the complaint are cast solely and entirely within the policy exclusion and are subject to no other reasonable interpretation.”
An insurer’s duty to defend an insured in a legal action under Florida law “arises when the complaint alleges facts that fairly and potentially bring the suit within policy coverage.” Even if the allegations in the complaint are meritless, the duty to defend nonetheless arises. All doubts about whether the duty to defend applies are resolved in favor of the insured. “If an examination of the allegations of the complaint leaves any doubt regarding the insurer’s duty to defend, the issue is resolved in favor of the insured.”
Progressive Express Insurance, supra, at *3-5 (internal citations omitted).
Duty to Indemnify
“While the duty to defend is broad and based on the allegations in the complaint, the duty to indemnify is determined by the facts adduced at trial or during discovery.”
Therefore, unlike the duty to defend, the trial court must look beyond the allegations in the underlying complaint to decide whether an insurer has a duty to indemnify. The duty to indemnify arguably may not become fully ripened until the merits of the underlying litigation are resolved.
Progressive Express Insurance, supra, at *6 (internal citations omitted)
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