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Florida First DCA rules that insurance coverage under liability policy identifying a named insured as doing business under a fictitious name was limited to business done under that fictitious name

On May 28, 2019, in Musselwhite v. Florida Farm General Insurance Company, et al., No. 1D18-780, the Florida First DCA affirmed a trial court ruling that a commercial liability policy purchased by insured for a feed store did not provide coverage for injuries arising from a separate well drilling business operated by the insured.  The issue arose because the declarations page to the policy identified the insured’s business both by the corporate name, “JOFH3,” and its doing business name, “Bell Feed & Farm,” and the well drilling operation offered services using a  fictitious name that made use of the same corporate name: “JODH3, Inc. d/b/a Bell Feed & Farm.”  In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the First DCA noted that the policy had been written before the well drilling business began and the insurer had specifically turned down the insured’s subsequent request to obtain insurance for the well drilling operation.  The First DCA noted that several courts in other jurisdictions have held that when a liability policy identifies a named insured as doing business under a fictitious name, coverage is limited only to business done under that fictitious name. 

The First DCA considered but did not resolve the question of whether an endorsement in the commercial liability policy limiting its operation to damages arising out “ownership, maintenance or use of the premises effectively converted the policy from a general liability policy to the equivalent of a premises or owner’s, landlord’s and tenant’s policy. The Florida Third DCA came to this conclusion in Union American Insurance Co. v. Haitian Refugee Center/Sant Refijie Ayisyin, Inc., 858 So. 2d 1076 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003), but the Fifth DCA and federal courts interpreting Florida law have more broadly construed similarly worded policies to extend coverage to offsite torts if they occur as a result of business operations conducted from the premises. See Southeast Farms, Inc. v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co., 714 So. 2d 509 (Fla. 5th DCA 1998);  Evanston Ins. Co. v. Gaddis Corp., 145 F. Supp. 3d 1140, 1149-53 (S.D. Fla. 2015); Szczeklik v. Markel Int’l Ins. Co., 942 F. Supp. 2d 1254, 1262 (M.D. Fla. 2013).  The First DCA concluded that even if the policy was interpreted to extend to offsite business activities, the well drilling operation was not part of the insured business.