Florida Appellate Court Rejects “Coblentz” Agreement in Rodriguez v. SNI

A grieving father is back to square one in his fight to seek compensation from the insurance company that represented a man who owned the vehicle that ended his son’s life in a motorcycle crash.
harleydavidsonthree.jpg
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals has affirmed summary judgment in favor of the insurance company in Rodriguez v. Security National Insurance Co., denying the validity of the Coblentz agreement into which the father entered with the vehicle owner. (At the time of the crash, the car was being driven by a third-party with the owner’s consent; the driver later negotiated a separate civil settlement, while the father pursued a vicarious liability action against the vehicle’s owner.)

Car accident lawyers in Fort Lauderdale know Coblentz agreements should only ever be entered into after careful consideration – precisely because of these types of scenarios.

A Coblentz agreement is one that begins with the defendant’s insurance company refusing to indemnify the defendant or pay the claim. The reasons may vary, with the insurance company usually asserting either the policy itself isn’t valid or the accident occurred outside the scope of coverage. Through a Coblentz agreement (so named after the decision in Coblentz v. Am. Sur. Co. of N.Y.), the plaintiff and defendant can settle the matter directly in a contract meant to bind the insurer.

However – here’s the catch – insurers aren’t bound by these agreements if they can show they rightly denied coverage in the first place. It is up to the injured party to prove coverage and wrongful refusal to defend.

In almost all of these cases, you can expect the insurance company to fight. This is why it’s so important for plaintiff injury lawyers to be certain there is a strong chance the courts will uphold the agreement, based on the language of the policy and the facts of the case.

The underlying facts of Rodriguez case are this:

Rodriguez’s son was killed in a collision with a motor vehicle while on his motorcycle in early 2009. The other party was at fault. In addition to suing the driver, the father, as representative of his son’s estate, sued the owner of the vehicle.

The insurance company refused coverage, indicating that the policy had expired two months before the crash.

The defendant and plaintiff subsequently entered a Coblentz agreement, settling for $2.5 million. The plaintiff then pursued the insurance company to pay those damages, asserting that the insurance policy was in full effect at the time of the crash because the insurer had failed to properly notify the insured that his policy was about to expire.

While it was true that the vehicle owner hadn’t received notification of the policy’s expiration, the insurance company was able to show it did mail expiration notices to the address that was on file for the vehicle owner. The problem was there was no apartment number on those mailings, so they never actually made it to him, and the policy ended.

The insurer sought a summary judgment, arguing that it was not required to submit written notice of policy lapse, and even if it was, it complied by submitting the notices to the address listed in the policy.

The plaintiff pointed to Florida Statute 627.728, which indicates an insurer can’t fail to renew a policy unless it mails or delivers a notice to the insured at least 45 days in advance. Otherwise, the policy remains in full effect.

The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for a summary judgment, finding that the insurance company had met the statutory requirement for submission of a policy lapse notice. The statute specifically states that the notice must be sent to the first-named insured “at the address shown in the policy.” The defect in the address, the court found, was irrelevant.

That ruling was affirmed by the appellate court.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Rodriguez v. Security National Insurance Co., April 30, 2014, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Jewish Pedestrian Safety Goal of State Traffic Safety Initiative, May 10, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog