Florida Appellate Court Grants Motion to Dismiss Claims Against Insurance Company in Fatal Car Accident Case

A recent case involving a fatal car accident presented detailed questions regarding the scope of an insurance company’s duties and requirements to its policyholders and other individuals involved in a motor vehicle accident. In Geico General Ins. Co. v. Lepine, the surviving wife of a man killed in a car accident filed a complaint against the driver and his car insurance company, seeking damages on behalf of her husband’s estate and herself. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s insurer reneged on a verbal agreement to pay the plaintiff $100,000, which reflected the full amount of the defendant’s policy limits. The plaintiff based these claims on a breach of contract theory.

The insurance company filed a motion to dismiss the portion of the plaintiff’s claims involving the breach of contract claims. The insurer contended that Florida Statutes Section 627.4136 prohibited the plaintiff from directly filing a cause of action against the defendant’s insurance company. This provision, also called the non-joinder statute, prohibits a non-insured individual from filing a direct lawsuit against the insurance company without obtaining a settlement or verdict against the insured party beforehand.

In ruling on the motion, the trial court determined that the insurance company’s agreement satisfied the statute’s requirement for a prior settlement agreement and that the plaintiff’s breach of contract action against the insurance company served as a method to enforce the settlement agreement, and it denied the motion to dismiss.

The insurance company appealed the denial to the Florida Second District Court of Appeals. According to the court, the insurance company’s alleged pre-lawsuit discussions with the plaintiff about a potential settlement did not constitute a settlement agreement and could not be deemed a separate obligation because the negotiations arose from the auto insurance policies’ terms. Ultimately, the court determined that a settlement agreement had not been reached because there was no consideration offered by the plaintiff to the insurer, like a release of liability.

Turning to the statute at hand, the court interpreted the language as only permitting the insurer to be joined in the lawsuit after a final judgment against the insurance company has been obtained, or after the parties reach a settlement agreement while the litigation is pending. According to the court, the intent of the non-joinder statute is to prohibit jurors from finding out that proceeds from an insurance company are available to the plaintiff. This knowledge may taint a juror’s ability to determine the defendant’s liability to the plaintiff in the underlying car accident case. Here, allowing the plaintiff to seek damages against the insurer for the allegedly agreed upon insurance policy limits before a final verdict or definitive settlement had been reached would create precisely this type of situation.

If you or  someone you love has suffered injuries as the result of another person’s carelessness, you may be entitled to compensation. Negotiating with insurance companies can be a daunting and stressful process. These companies don’t always have your best interest in mind and often do what they can to mitigate the amount of money they have to pay on their insurer’s behalf. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our skilled team of personal injury lawyers has provided experienced and compassionate legal counsel to injury victims throughout Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. Contact us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your fre,e no-obligation consultation today.

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