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Jason Cornell Jan. 9, 2019

In a recent decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed whether a homeowner failed to provide his insurance company with proper notice when reporting a claim for damage to his home.  See Himmel v. Avatar Property & Casualty Ins. Co., No. 4D17-2724 2018 WL 5044352 (Fla. 4th DCA Oct. 17, 2018).  In Himmel, a homeowner sustained interior water damage to his home after his air conditioning unit leaked.  Two days after his home was damaged, the insured notified his homeowner’s insurance company of the loss.  Id. at *1.

The homeowner in Himmel eventually retained counsel and filed suit against his insurance company.  During the litigation, the insurer filed several motions for summary judgment.  In one of the motions, the insurer argued that the homeowner failed to provide “prompt notice” of the loss.  In response, the homeowner provided evidence of the proof of loss submitted to the insurance company. At a hearing on the motions, the trial court found that the undisputed evidence showed that the homeowner failed to provide his insurer with prompt notice of the claim.  The homeowner appealed the trial court’s decision. Id. at *3.

In deciding whether the homeowner provided proper notice, the appellate court first looked at prior decisions addressing notice.  Quoting Ideal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Waldrep, 400 So.2d 782, 785 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981), the court explained that “[n]otice is necessary when there has been an occurrence that should lead a reasonable and prudent [person] to believe that a claim for damages would arise.”  Next, the Himmel court found that notice is “prompt” when a homeowner provides notice to the insurer “with reasonable dispatch and within a reasonable time in view of all of the facts and circumstances of a particular case.”  Id. at *4, quoting Laquer v. Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 167 So.3d 470, 474 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015)(further citations omitted).

Turning to whether summary judgment was appropriate,  the court in Himmel held that the issue of whether an insured provided prompt notice to an insurer “generally presents an issue of fact,” meaning it should be decided by the jury.  Id. at *4, citing Yacht Club on the Intracoastal Condo Ass’n v. Lexington Ins. Co., 599 Fed.Appx. 875, 879 (11th Cir. 2015); see also, Gonzalez v. U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co., 441 So.2d 681, 681 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983).

In Himmel, the homeowner’s policy required he provide notice within a reasonable time given all the facts and circumstances surrounding the loss.  Himmel at *4.  Looking at the evidence before it, the court found the that homeowner provided his insurer with notice of the claim two days after the leak was first discovered and one day after the actual damage was discovered.  Whether such notice was untimely was an issue for the jury to decide and should not have been decided at summary judgment. As to the issue of prompt notice, the Fourth District in Himmel reversed the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings.  Id. at 4 – 5.