An insurer was not entitled to summary judgment in a coverage dispute because whether the insured provided “prompt” notice of her hurricane damage claim was a jury question.

In Laquer v. Citizens Prop. Ins. Corp., 2015 Fla. App. LEXIS 7570, Laquer, the owner of a condominium unit, purchased an insurance policy from Citizens that insured personal property from damage by a hurricane or other weather conditions. The policy required “prompt notice” of any claim. It also required Laquer to submit a sworn proof of loss within sixty days of Citizens’ request.

On October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida. Over three years later, on May 19, 2009, Laquer notified Citizens of mold growth on her furniture, fixtures, carpets, linens, and draperies. She also submitted a sworn proof of loss within sixty days of Citizens’ request. Citizens denied the claim for failure to comply with the policy’s requirement to provide “prompt” notice. Laquer brought this suit for breach of the policy. After discovery was taken, Citizens moved for summary judgment.

Citizens argued that a delay of more than three years in reporting an insurance claim is not “prompt” notice as a matter of law, relying on case law holding that notice of hurricane damage submitted several years after the storm constituted late notice. Laquer responded to Citizens’ summary judgment motion by arguing that the issue of whether the notice was “prompt” turns on when the insured first knew or should have known she had suffered damage, which presents an issue of fact.

Laquer contended that she rented her condominium unit fully furnished to a tenant for a period extending approximately three years before the hurricane to three years after the hurricane. After Hurricane Wilma struck, the condominium’s manager visited Laquer’s unit and found no damage. Furthermore, the tenant and the housekeeper who attended to the tenant’s maintenance requests, did not report any damage. In support of her position, she filed her affidavit, the deposition of the condominium’s manager who inspected her condominium unit after Hurricane Wilma, and the affidavit of an environmental contractor who repaired damage to Laquer’s unit. Laquer stated she had no way of learning about the damage for three years until shortly before she filed her claim.

After reviewing the summary judgment record, the trial court entered a partial summary judgment. It concluded, as a matter of law, that Laquer failed to provide “prompt” notice of her insurance claim. But the court also ruled that there were material facts in dispute over whether Citizens was prejudiced by the late notice. The case went to trial on that issue. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Citizens, and the trial court entered final judgment for Citizens. Laquer appealed the final judgment entered in favor of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation following the jury trial.

The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed and remanded the case, finding that Citizens was not entitled to summary judgment in the coverage dispute because whether Laquer provided “prompt” notice of her hurricane damage claim was a jury question. The Court stated the damage to the insured’s condominium unit or the interior of the wall was not apparent until several years after and the hurricane itself was not necessarily the event that triggered the notice requirement, given the absence of apparent damage to any of the insured’s property following the storm. Moreover, the Court concluded that the legal issues of “prompt” notice and prejudice could not be tried separately because both were tied to the factual issue of when the insured’s duty to provide notice was triggered.