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Two recent decisions from the Florida Supreme Court that reversed rulings by the same District Court of Appeal will have a serious impact on the insurance industry.

The consequential rulings came on Sept. 20, 2018 in the cases of Harvey v. GEICO General Insurance Co., and Odom v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in which the Florida Supreme Court’s used its power of discretionary review to reverse decisions by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

Harvey v. GEICO General Insurance Co.

In Harvey v. GEICO General Insurance Co., No. SC17-85, So. 3d (Fla. Sept. 20, 2018), the Florida Supreme Court found there was support for a jury’s finding of bad faith and held that the Fourth District “misstated” the law. It’s 4-3 ruling reversed a Fourth District Court of Appeal decision siding with GEICO General Insurance Co. in a $9.2 million judgement against the insurer.

The case stemmed from an automobile accident that caused a man’s death by the plaintiff’s vehicle, which was covered under an insurance liability policy of $100,000 through GEICO. The auto insurer tried to settle the matter by providing the man’s estate with a check for the full policy limits. The estate argued that GEICO failed to provide a statement from the insured plaintiff, which might have indicated the plaintiff’s assets.

The estate returned the check and filed a wrongful death suit against the plaintiff, and a jury awarded the estate $8.47 million.

The plaintiff then filed a bad faith claim against GEICO, claiming that the attorney for the estate would have advised the estate to settle for the insurance policy limits had he known that the plaintiff would not have sufficient assets to cover a potential jury award. The jury found that GEICO had acted in bad faith and awarded the plaintiff a judgment of $9.2 million. GEICO appealed and the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed the award, concluding that the plaintiff had not provided sufficient evidence of bad faith because even if GEICO acted deficiently, it did not cause the excess judgment against the plaintiff.

In the Sept. 20 majority opinion to reverse Fourth DCA’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Quince, joined by Justices Pariente, Lewis, and Labarga, found there was competent, substantial evidence to support the jury’s finding of bad faith, and held that the Fourth District “misstated” the law.

Justices Canady and Polston dissented in separate opinions, joined by Justice Lawson, that the Florida Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because the Fourth District Court’s opinion did not expressly and directly conflict with prior Florida Supreme Court decisions.

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