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Florida First DCA affirms trial court determination that UIM contract provision extending coverage to unemancipated children of insured included insured's daughter at college

On January 2, 2018, in State Farm v. Hawkinson, No. 1D16-5692, the Florida First DCA affirmed a partial summary judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff in an UIM case in which the plaintiff, the unmarried daughter of the insured, claimed UIM benefits under her parents’ policy. The policy provided UIM coverage to the parents’ relatives and it defined “relative” to include a related person who “resides primarily” with the parents, as well as the parents’ “unmarried and unemancipated child away at school.” Although the First DCA indicated that there was conflicting evidence that reasonably could have supported a contrary finding regarding the daughter’s emancipation status, the Court concluded that it was constrained to affirm because the finding made by the trial court was supported by competent substantial evidence, citing as precedent Bonich v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 996 So. 2d 942, 944 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008).

The Bonich court had concluded in a similar situation that a trial court's findings of fact in a declaratory judgment action should be reviewed to determine whether they are supported by competent, substantial evidence, citing St. Vincent's Med. Ctr., Inc. v. Mem'l Healthcare Group, Inc., 928 So.2d 430, 434 (Fla. 1st DCA 2006), aff'd, 967 So.2d 794 (Fla. 2007); Lawyers Title Ins. Co. v. Novastar Mortgage, Inc., 862 So.2d 793, 797 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). The Bonichcourt further noted that the question of whether facts fall within the scope of coverage is a question of law to be reviewed de novo. Fayad v. Clarendon Nat'l Ins. Co., 899 So.2d 1082, 1085 (Fla. 2005). Consequently, what the First DCA appears to have concluded in Hawkinson is that the trial court’s determination that the daughter was unemancipated was a finding of fact rather than a legal finding.