Three Florida Supreme Court nominees appear to be leaning down the insurer path
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Some Florida insurers may feel like they haven’t hit a home run with the recent property insurance reform measures enacted in May. But they could soon see a friendly arbiter in the state Supreme Court who could write important appellate decisions for years to come.
The Florida Supreme Court’s Judicial Appointments Commission, chaired by Fred Karlinsky, often described as one of the state’s most powerful defense and insurance regulatory attorneys, this week submitted to the governor the names five state court judges and one practicing attorney.
All have conservative good faith, and three of the judges have written several opinions considered favorable to insurers in property and auto insurance cases. Gov. Ron DeSantis will choose one of the jurists to replace outgoing Justice Alan Lawson, giving the governor four of his own appointees to the seven-member high court.
The clear favorite for Lawson’s spot appears to be Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis, whom DeSantis nominated to the high court in 2020. At the time, Francis was not at least 10 years old as a member of the Florida Bar, as required. by the state constitution. Now she does. She would be the only black judge in court.
“I would be very surprised if Francis was not chosen,” said Robert Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University School of Law. “Francis is an avowed conservative (she is a member of the Federalist Society), and her few reported decisions are all strongly in favor of insurers.”
Her decisions include Progressive American Insurance v. Silverland Medical Center, written in 2019 while she was a circuit judge in Miami-Dade County. The notice overturned a county court judge and found that Progressive did not owe the transferee bodily injury protection coverage because the owner of the vehicle had never registered the car in order to obtain the coverage. no-fault insurance.
The medical center had argued that the vehicle had been parked most of the time, awaiting resale, and that it was not required to register it.
“Overall, the legislative mandate is clear and unambiguous: motor vehicles on the roads of this state must be licensed and have security (PIP coverage), and that security must be maintained at all times throughout registration period; failure to maintain such security is an absolute bar to entitlement to PIP benefits for a person injured in a motor vehicle accident – including benefits that might otherwise have been available under another person’s policy,” reads -on in the notice.
Silverland’s appeal was dismissed by the 3rd District Court of Appeals.
Francis endorsed another 2019 decision that found in favor of State Farm Insurance in a car accident case, noting that the insurer had shown that medical center prices could be considered unreasonably high.
However, the judge did not always see things from the side of the insurer. In United Automobile Insurance v. Preferred Health in 2019, another PIP case, the majority of circuit judges reversed in the county court and ruled in favor of the insurer. The question related to the qualifications of the insurer’s witness doctor. Francis dissented, arguing that Preferred Health properly objected to the doctor’s testimony.
Two other candidates, Justice Robert Long and Justice Adam Tannenbaum, both of 1st The District Court of Appeals has also written a number of decisions favorable to insurers in recent years, according to Jarvis and Florida attorneys familiar with the rulings.
In DSK Group and Zurich American vs. Jorge Hernandez, for example, Tannenbaum wrote the majority opinion in April in a workers’ compensation case. The Court of Appeals tightened the back-and-forth rule a bit and concluded that an electrician involved in an accident on the way to the construction site was not entitled to benefits, even if he was transporting work supplies at the time.
Steven Silberberg v. Palm Beach County School Board and York Risk Services was another comp case. Tannenbaum wrote that a teacher was not entitled to compensation after his leg fell asleep while he was sitting and fell while trying to get up. The court noted that the injury did not occur within the scope and scope of employment since sitting was a normal activity – inside and outside the workplace.
In Robles v. United Automobile Insurance, Tannenbaum wrote that the insured did not have to pay attorney fees in a successful appeal of a trial court’s order that transferred the location. .
“A careful reading of this law reveals that it does not authorize a court of appeal to make such an award on an interlocutory appeal,” the judge wrote. Costs can only be awarded after a judgment, he noted.
In Walls vs Southern Owners Insurance, in 2021, Judge Long wrote in the appeals court decision that a volunteer worker killed in a car accident was covered only by her personal car insurance policy, and not by the upper limit police owned by the organization she worked for.
Also in 2021, Long wrote the opinion in State Farm Insurance vs. Nordin, a home insurance case. The court reversed a trial judge, finding that State Farm had the right to assess the property even though it had participated in litigation over the claim.
“Nothing in the record establishes that State Farm knowingly waived or engaged in conduct that implies it knowingly waived its right to the assessment,” Long wrote. “To the contrary, the record reflects a deliberate action to assess the nature of the claims and then invoke assessment at the first reasonable opportunity.”
Karlinsky, the chairman of the judges’ nominating commission, told a Florida legal news site this week that the six nominees represent “a diverse selection of highly qualified jurists and practitioners with sharp legal minds, who have committed to upholding Florida law and the U.S. Constitution.” .”
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