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Fourth District Court of Appeal reverses trial verdict against insurer in first party property insurance case because of plaintiff's introduction of irrelevant information about her health

On February 8, 2017, in State Farm Insurance Company v, Figueroa, the 4th DCA reversed a trial verdict in favor a first party insured against her property insurer and remanded for a new trial due to the erroneous admission of evidence offered by the plaintiff about her health. The gravamen of the case was a dispute about whether the plaintiff's alleged failure to timely submit a proof of loss form relieved the insurer of its obligations under the policy. At trial, the plaintiff contended, over the defense's objections, that she was unable to comply with the time limitations because of personal health issues. The 4th DCA concluded that this evidence was irrelevant to the case because there was no policy provision that excused compliance with the time limitations based on health issues. The Court additionally concluded that the jury may have inferred from this evidence that the plaintiff's health was a proper factor in its analysis, noting that the issue was repeatedly raised by plaintiff's counsel and was the subject of two questions from jury members. Based on the foregoing, the Court concluded that the evidence was both irrelevant and highly prejudicial, hence not harmless error.

On a separate issue, the 4th DCA ruled that the questions of whether the plaintiff substantially complied with the policy obligations and whether the insurer was prejudiced by any breach in compliance are questions of fact reserved for the jury and not subject to resolution by directed verdict. The Court distinguished its previous decision to the contrary in Goldman v. State Farm Fire Gen. Ins. Co., 660 So. 2d 300, 306 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995), noting the instant case, unlike Goldman, the plaintiff arguably substantially complied with her policy obligations by submitting the proof of loss prior to filing the lawsuit (in Goldman, the plaintiff had not taken any action to cure the alleged default prior to filing suit).

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